Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, I feel an instant kinship with anyone else who's had the same label slapped on them. It's an afterthought to me to find out what kind.

The word cancer, though, actually encompasses a myriad of forms of cells growing out of control inside the body. But hearing that someone else has the Big C, whether it's the same form or not, instantly creates a bond.

I know what it's like to have the idea put into a more concrete form that I may not live as long as the rest of you.

It's after that initial wave passes that a strange and wonderful thing happens to a lot of survivors. We look for ways to insert ourselves back into life while being of service to others with our newfound appreciation.

Blessings pop up as we create a way for all of our fellow survivors to plug back into a new definition for their life.

Ann Ogden Gaffney, who is a 10-year survivor of kidney cancer and a five-year breast cancer survivor, took that universal philosophy and melded it with her love of cooking, and created, Cook For Your Life, www.CookForYourLife.org, in 2007, by teaching patients at St. Luke's in New York City -- and that's when she saw the huge demand, and decided to make a change.

Classes are held in the NYC area for cancer patients, survivors and even caregivers, to offer them a chance to learn how to cook, pour their emotions into chopping and stirring, and find some understanding among fellow travelers. "The cooking classes help them get through difficult times, " said Ann. "It's a warm situation with a lot of chopping and chatting." Classes are also offered in Spanish, and Ann hopes that Cook For Your Life will eventually spread to other cities.

I'm hoping Chicago is next.

Somewhere in the middle of being diagnosed so many times with skin cancer, I realized that eating better would probably benefit my immune system. The trick was going to be finding a way to learn how to eat what they call "closer to the ground,' or less packaged food, without overwhelming myself.

However, cancer patients are already overwhelmed with doctors asking endless questions, and quite often, the same questions by yet another new face, having pieces of themselves cut off or cut out, being constantly too tired to do much, and wondering about the quality of life, or how much of living is still left.

"When you start to cook for yourself, you get a result almost immediately," said Ann. "You regain choices and a modicum of control."

I didn't need to add to the list by taking on cooking, particularly since I've never really shined in that department. There is nothing intrinsic about the way I approach produce. I don't look at a pile of ingredients and see the possibilities. I see the ingredients, and at best think, salad.

Cook For Your Life keeps it simple and the results are telling Ann she's onto something. "Usually we have about 15 people in a class, but we're growing like topsy, it's incredible and we're looking for different locales. The demand for these classes has doubled this year. A lot of hospitals are now sending people."

A new web site is launching in September that will have videos and live streaming to help spread the message that cooking can be as good for the soul as it is for the body. "it's fantastic to see people's faces when they see these big spreads of food that they've helped to create, " said Ann.

Packaged food and busy schedules have pulled a lot of us away from a closer creative connection to how we feed and take care of ourselves. For some of us, cancer is the big wake-up call to make a change, but we don't have to wait for a crisis.

We can start this week by replacing one fast food stop with a simple dish we cooked ourselves, and then shared with those we love.

Then we're feeding our relationships, too.

Tweet me @MarthaRandolph, and let me know your favorite healthy recipes. I'll pass them along.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail Martha at Martha@caglecartoons.com.