My original poem honoring Paula Myra Block, written in her NYC hospital room: Our brave Paula, only 62, had a bigger than life personality that served her well as a chef, food stylist and Culinary Anthropologist who rubbed elbows with with food world greats like Emeril.
In happier times, Chef Paula in the kitchen with famed Chef Emeril Lagasse.
My Sister The Culinary Anthropologist
This column is my new year’s gift to my wonderful sister Paula Myra Block, who passed away this December, after a courageous eight-year battle with cancer. It is personal and not the usual column you find on this site. It is how I choose to end the 10s and launch into the 20s.
She was a Culinary Anthropologist, expressed through print/TV food stylist, cookbook, newspaper and magazines, and in recent years as a food writer-blogger. She was a generous friend happily followed by a tribe of foodies in Brooklyn and beyond, and an irreplaceable part of our extended family.
She was a Culinary Anthropologist who traveled the world to study the best that each nation offered She visited nearly two dozen countries and more than 300 cities seeking out the best local cuisine each had to offer.
Below you can read a poem scribbled at my sister’s bedside during her final days. After I flew in from LA, she awoke for a day and was her old self, for a magical Sunday, and then her body failed her. In her final hours, as we tried to comfort her, I wrote this heartfelt poem.
Paula teaching Alex about Korean cuisine during a visit to L.A.
My only audience for this poem until now was my fantastic niece Jill Mallek, a wife and mom who flew in from Utah, where she is a respected university librarian, to be with Paula, who helped raise her. When Paula saw Jill on her last Sunday, she lit up with joy.
In Paula’s final hours, Jill spent long days with me at her bedside. We were joined by a number of her friends, especially Dave Cook, who had explored the cuisine of greater NY with Paula and found adventure in exciting food and great chefs. Dave’s smart foodie blog is called “Eating In Translation,” and is at www.EatinginTranslation.com.
Alex and Jill do a selfie in the subway
Another welcome visitor was Roseanne Jean Louis, originally from St. Lucia and her longtime companion Will, from Jamaica. “Rosie,” as Jill calls her, started out working for my sister Rita, later worked with my mother Anne, and helped raise Jill. She was someone Paula loved.
After Paula’s passing, Jill helped me work a miracle closing Paula’s longtime Brooklyn apartment. We couldn’t have done it without Roseanne and Will, who both put great effort into helping our family to give Paula a proper sendoff. Long after her employment, Roseanne remains a family friend.
In happier times, Paula and Roseanne dancing on one of their international trips
Paula never gave in to her illness, from the time it was first diagnosed more than eight years ago. She fought it with great strength of will, a positive attitude and reached out for new treatments. She worked with her dedicated physician and friend Dr. Paula Klein at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. The entire nursing team that Jill, Roseann, Dave and I observed were dedicated professionals who cared about the patients. They deserve praise for what they accomplish every day.
After her diagnosis, Paula entered a six-year period of remission. During that time, my sister honored those who face cancer with creation of her non-profit Weird Cancer, dedicated to showing that cancer patients and survivors can lead good lives. She wanted to bring together those with cancer, their families and friends, to learn how to cope, have a good attitude and share a joy of life.
During her remission, Paula came to LA to help Alex celebrate his birthday
Paula was a much more than her disease. She was a smart, independent woman, with strong political views (look out Trump or as she called him, “Cheeto.” She posted frequently on Facebook and elsewhere).
When Paula graduated from Nottingham H.S. in Syracuse, N.Y.
She worked after attending college at Roger Williams in Rhode Island, and trained as a chef and Culinary Anthropologist in London and at the Culinary Institute of America, as a chef. She labored on all levels in top kitchens from NYC to LA, with notable stops in Dallas and Ft. Lauderdale. She found her real home when she moved to the ethnically-diverse Kensington area of Brooklyn, N.Y. where for many years she thrived.
Paula was amazing in the kitchen. She had been a chef for Michael Caine’s Miami Beach eatery, and would get calls from The Today Show or GMA to provide off-camera food prep services for a visiting celebrity chef, who looks like he did it all himself. She met exacting standards.
Paula had an active career as a food stylist for magazines, TV, movies and ads. Her ads were art. She could make food look amazing. She got it ready for photographing. It looked perfect but was actually inedible. She made it not only palatable but something to be desired.
My sister Rita, Paula and our mother, Anne Block together in Florida
Most of all Paula was a phone call away when I needed to connect with my closest relative, the last of my immediate family. We were the children of Robert H. Block and Anne Polivan Block, and grew up in Syracuse New York. My older sister Rita passed away about eight years ago at her home in Florida, and my parents before her, also both in Florida after retirement. Now I am left to remember them all.
So, I dedicate this New Year’s Eve and Day, and all of 2020 to Paula’s powerful spirit, which lives on for all the many she touched.
Forgive an amateur poet who wants to share this poem. It is far from perfect but it is from the heart.
AN ORIGINAL POEM BY ALEX BEN BLOCK
My Sister Paula M. Block
My sister has always been an independent spirit.
Others might side step reality but she did not fear it.
My sister always had a strong will to live.
She had great love, and was always there to give.
When she did not like a person, she did not hesitate to share her views (are you listening Trump).
She’d tell them what was in her heart and mind, even if it gave them a kick in the rump.
She is a chef, food stylist, author, food lover and connoisseur of all that is great.
She is a cultural anthropologist who travelled the globe discovering new cuisines and dishes by the plate.
Chef Paula aka Chef Fem could be a loving sister, and a wonderful friend to trust.
But to her those who didn’t share her high standards were lower than dust.
When we were children I know Paula looked up to me.
I only wish I could have been as good as she thought she could see.
For many years we lived in cities far apart.
But through the ups and downs, good times and bad, we shared a single heart.
I don’t think she knew how much I learned from her.
I wish I had told her more often what she meant to me but so much of life just flies by in a blur.
She has been so optimistic, strong, gutsy and brave.
Even as she faced a horrid illness, she still loved, shared, cared and gave.
If life was fair my brave sister would live to guide us toward better days.
She would insist we stand tall for our beliefs and help all in need in all ways.
There may or may not be a God above or below.
But what I know is that my sister Paula will head to heaven like a beam of light shining on her from head to toe.
We humans think at times we are so strong.
But old age has a way of showing us we are wrong.
Still I get strength and comfort from having had my sister Paula for 62 years as my closest friend.
I know in my heart and mind her deeds and memory will live on forever and ever without end.
Mount Sinai Hospital North ICU
Tenth Ave and 59th St.
We are planning celebrations of Paula in New York City in March and in Los Angeles in August for family and friends. Details to follow.
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FACEBOOK POST DEC. 17, 2019:
THERE BETTER BE A BIG KITCHEN IN HEAVEN BECAUSE IT HAS A TERRIFIC NEW CHEF
Sad to report my wonderful sister Paula Myra Block passed away today (Dec. 17, 2019) after a courageous eight-year battle with cancer, at age 62.
It is with eyes full of tears and a broken heart that I celebrate the life, career and great spirit of Chef Paula, aka Chef Fem.
She grew into being a food stylist for TV, movies, and advertising, with a knack to create realistic looking food to enhance a scene or layout. She was a restaurant consultant and cookbook author. Her recipes were honored, recognized and published in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and many other newspapers, magazines and online.
She studied culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America, food writing at the New School and theater at Roger William University.
But she was so much more than that. She really cared about serving good, healthy food, and she was dedicated to saving the environment. She was a Culinary Anthropologist who traveled the world to study the best that each nation offered She visited nearly two dozen countries and more than 300 cities seeking out the best local cuisine each had to offer.
She could charm an audience with her knowledge and humor. She had a special sense for identifying new and emerging culinary trends She relished helping to show off the best of established brands and introducing emerging products. She was adept at determining the “hook” that created the strongest connection between ideas and the audience.
She earned awards as a food stylist in South Florida, appearing on radio and television. She was the recipient of three Gold Broward Ad Fed Awards for Food Styling, five Silver Broward Ad Fed Awards for Food Styling and the award for Best Dessert at the Miami Chocolate Festival.
Paula as a teenager
She grew up in Syracuse, New York, lived in New York City, London, Ft Lauderdale and elsewhere but she really came into her own when she took up residence in Brooklyn. It was there that Chef Paula worked with Brooklyn Chef Stephan Pyles and assisted in the birth of Southwestern fusion cuisine.
After she was first diagnosed with cancer about eight years ago she refused to be stopped. She sought out Dr. Paula Klein who used experimental treatments to keep her off traditional chemo and alive. She went into remission for about six years, and during that period became determined to share her story and her desire to help others.
In 2011, she founded the non-profit group Weird Cancer to, as she put it, “kick cancer out of the closet of share and, myths. She helped found support group meetings and activities to empower cancer survivors and help liven up the spirits of their families.
“The medicine is rapidly moving forward,” Chef Paula wrote. “The support side was still in the dark ages. I tend to call it the waiting room of death activities. Writing and talk therapy, only good thing offered was yoga, Gilda’s House offered my classes in knitting. None of the activities will bring up endorphins, the happiness gene.”
“When you have 5 kinds of cancer,” she said of her own situation, “going to your normal breast or colon cancer, support meetings, in my case I did not feel comfortable, if anything I would feel braggadocios, The last thing I wanted was to feel like I deserve more care than any other person with only one kind of cancer.”
“People asked why I chose the name: Weird Cancer ?” she wrote. “Move, fall in love, divorce, change jobs, cities, your life goes into the ‘weird.’ As time goes on you find your new normal.”
Paula lived far beyond the normal expected life span for someone with her illness, and she never lost her spirit, her soul, and her sense of humor. She may have lost the ultimate battle, but her spirit and accomplishments live on, especially for the many lives she touched and helped change for the better
The 6 Year Miracle
Published on August 25, 2017 on Linkedln
By Paula Block
Founder of weirdcancer.org
Paint me happy, now all I want yo do is restart my life.
AS most people know, 6 years ago, I was diagnosed with Late Stage 4 Metastatic Cancer. With established tumors in 5 places. To say I was scared, terrified, shaking in my boots, is to put it mildly.
My brain was spinning, all I knew was that I was in for a lifelong battle. My incredible Oncologist Super PK, put me on a new drug therapy Letrozole, no chemo or radiation.
My cancer cell count was well above 9000, now 6 years later,, my cancer count is hovering around 200 !!!!!!
In fact, a few weeks ago, while having a full bone scan, the cute little old doctor, came into the scanning room, said all he could find was arthritis, which after 20+ years as a chef is to be expected.
He went back to his office, looked over my chart, upon his return, he called me a “Miracle”. He had gone back to reread my chart, he was in amazement he could find no cancer.
PK was ecstatic with my results, she offered me 4 alternative treatments, none involved chemo or radiation.
After the bone scan, I was told I didn't have enough cancer to get on a new clinical trial. Just a few new tiny spots in my shoulder. Excitedly I announced to PK , through tears of joy, I wanted to share a bottle of good champagne to celebrate.
As of this time, I am off all cancer meds, my weight is down by 85 pounds, and again able to work.
In between, I took 3 trip to Europe, meet wonderful people, had amazing adventures, and the food...with no Monsanto finger/chemicals in the food, my body began reacting very normally.
Last year I founded ”Weird Cancer” dedicated to the empowerment and support of cancer patients, survivors and caretakers.
Soon to begin, meetings that include all people with all cancers. No more elitism separate meeting for each kind of cancer, besides men were never mentioned.
As cancer patients my view is we are all going through the same feeling, similar side effects from our medications
The medicine is rapidly moving forward - The support side was still in the dark ages. I tend to call it the waiting room of death activities. Writing and talk therapy, only good thing offered was yoga, Gilda’s House offered my classes in knitting. None of the activities, will bring up endorphins, the happiness gene.
When you have 5 kinds of cancer, going to your normal breast or colon cancer, support meetings, in my case I did not feel comfortable, if anything I would feel braggadocious, the last thing I wanted was to feel like I deserve more care than any other person with only one kind of cancer.
Throughout my life I have been a research nerd. Not when it came to my cancer….so much terror and fear had entered my life I avoided researching my own types of cancer. Until I began to do my research for Weird Cancer.
I just was not ready to know…..
First off: Research on Metastatic cancer said I had only 5-6 years to survive.
After 6 years on the Letrozole,the last 12-18 months, I found myself falling slowly down the rabbit hole of side effects, shaking from my center, outwardly to my extremities hands and feet.
I had reached the point I Was nearly unable to leave my bed. My right foot stopped communicating with my right foot, limping and at times pulling my right foot behind me. Just standing up made me dizzy, with occasional l fainting spells.
Over the years, my insides were photographed were taken from every different angle, MRI’s, Pet Scans, Brain and spinal cord.
Laughing at wondering if I would begin to glow in the dark from all the Nuclear medicine pumped into me.
Now Super PK, took me off my cancer meds, now 6 weeks later, the shaking is way down and I can type again, walk nearly normally, being able to stay awake and sleep soundly at night , again.
The side effect are quickly fading, teaching my brain to communicate with my feet practicing walking at least an hour or more a day. The fog around my brain is swiftly fading away.
In the fall I will go on new medication, after the side effects from my previous medication dissipate.
Paint me happy, now all I want yo do is restart my life.
People have asked me why did I Choose the name: Weird Cancer ?
Move, fall in love, divorce, change jobs, cities, your life goes into the “weird”. As time goes on you find your new normal.
Now is time to get to work and build my own new normal.
Join me in rebuilding my happiness and celebration of life.