Whether having to support four daughters after her divorce, or staring down cancer, City of Hope patient Sue Campoy always has faced life’s challenges head on.
Her philosophy — “keep moving forward” — not only sustained her after her 1995 breast cancer diagnosis and inspired her family and friends, but it also is transforming the lives of women at the Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women & Children in Los Angeles.
Seven years ago, the center’s board was considering what to do with an extra 1,000 square feet in the proposed complex that would include 22 new apartments. Campoy, a member of the shelter’s board of directors, suggested a kitchen and bakery that could employ shelter inhabitants and teach them marketable skills. After all, her own cozy San Marino restaurant, “Julienne,” was that same small size when it opened in 1985.
|Restaurateur Sue Campoy (Photo by Ann Chatillon)|
The resulting “Women’s Village” center, dedicated June 12, brought her vision to culinary life. Inside its sanctuary, “The Village Kitchen” was unveiled, representing “the culmination of a personal goal for me,” said Campoy.
Besides creating the concept, Campoy designed the kitchen and persuaded vendors to donate equipment. Eventually she even may hire some of the women for her own restaurant.
Julienne has grown to more than 4,500 square feet, and has become one of the region’s most popular restaurants. Campoy once faced tough times, so she empathizes with homeless women’s plight. “Through circumstance, one can lose their job, home, and financial stability, and be out on the street without any support system,” she said.
Her own work ethic, sense of humor and a network of friends helped her persevere, gave her hope and provide economic stability for her and her four children.
Throughout the years, Campoy had voraciously studied cookbooks, taken culinary classes in Los Angeles and Europe and evolved into an inventive cook who hosted themed parties. From 1980 to 1985, she prepared elaborate meals in her kitchen, used her station wagon to transport them to parties and stayed to do the dishes. Word of mouth eventually put her in her restaurant — and put her restaurant on the map.
In 1995, she faced a different challenge: breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation at another facility. When the disease returned six years later, her doctor suggested she get her financial affairs in order. She instead transferred to City of Hope, under the care of hematologist and medical oncologist Stephen J. Forman, M.D.
Her new prognosis was decidedly different. “City of Hope really is a city of hope,” said Campoy.
New treatments kept the cancer at bay — until 2006. Her left side suddenly stiffened, and on her return to City of Hope, a neurologist detected a new lesion on her spinal cord, which could have paralyzed her from the neck down. The lesion shrunk after radiation.
During 10 months of chemotherapy, visits she calls “spa days,” she met fellow patients whose will to live inspired her.
“I believe God takes care of you. Even now, my faith has really sustained me going through cancer. Things happen in life for a reason,” she said. “You have to accept it and move on. I feel so lucky. In spite of the heartache and setbacks I went through, it helped create the person I am today.”
Planning her cookbook and The Village Kitchen bolstered her spirit. She remembers the emotional moment of seeing the shelter’s women in their chef jackets. “They were crying; I was crying,” she said. “They were so proud of wearing their jackets because it signified a coat of honor. They were so happy to be cooking and to be given a chance.”
These days, as Campoy continues to receive oral chemotherapy and once-a-month infusion treatments, she remains unrelentingly optimistic.
Said Campoy, with a smile: “You just have to keep moving forward.”