Maeve Rochford is one tough cookie. The owner of San Diego’s popular Sugar and Scribe Bakery trounced her competition on the second season of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, which aired in late 2015. Before winning the title, though, she touched viewers during a candid on-screen moment. Every victory she achieved was especially sweet, she explained through tears, because in college she wasn’t even sure she’d survive a rare kidney disease called membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis.
“My life as I knew it would change,” says Rochford. “The carefree days of my past were over. The doctor wasn’t even sure if I should stay in Boston or go home to my family in Cincinnati.”
Rochford left the hospital feeling dazed, forgetting that she’d driven and walking three miles back to her dorm. The doctor had also informed her that she’d never be able to have children. Her body simply couldn’t handle the stress of it.
[tweet_box design=”default”]Food network champion @ChefMaeve opens up about her struggle with #kidneydisease and how she’s taken control.[/tweet_box]
“I was so distraught,” says Rochford, who comes from a close all-Irish clan. “I felt like the worst daughter. I felt completely worthless as a female. I had done everything right. I followed all the rules and regulations. How could this happen?”
She didn’t know how to tell her family the news, but her doctor, concerned about her reaction, already had phoned her parents in Cincinnati.
“My phone rang and it was my mother,” says Rochford. “I could tell she knew. I started crying. She asked if I wanted to come home and I said no. This is not going to be part of my life. It’s just something in the background. She immediately supported me.”
She achieved all this while suffering from chronic edema and neuropathy, both common symptoms of MPGN.
“Neuropathy is known as phantom pain but I assure you there’s nothing phantom about it,” says Rochford, who estimates she spent three to four months in the hospital in the year following her diagnosis. “I was taking so many medications, including steroids. I had ‘roid rage, so I had to learn how to handle being angry all the time. And steroids can cause weight gain, so I had to monitor every single thing I ate to maintain my coxswain weight.”
Staying so busy proved a welcome distraction for Rochford, who adds that keeping things in perspective also helped.
Mostly, she relied on inner strength and didn’t let her doubts and fears take over, an attitude she’s embraced for 18 years now. “Mentally I became a fortress,” she says. “Nothing is going to deter me from what I want. Nothing.”
Rochford’s can-do spirit definitely was on display during the Holiday Baking Championship, especially when she swept both challenges in the reality show’s riveting final episode. But tenacity is also part of Rochford’s daily life, whether it’s running her business-which the entrepreneur hopes to expand with a line of colorful candies and women’s culinary apparel-or maintaining healthy habits.
In addition to following a strict diet-no easy feat considering the offerings at Sugar & Scribe, which serves sweet treats along with savory breakfast and lunch menus-Rochford stays active with her husband Andrew, who has a background in kinesiology.
“He’s my best friend and the opposing calm for my fire,” she says. “When I’m tired, he’ll go on a walk with me or to the gym, or we’ll soak in the hot tub.”
And while fatigue and other symptoms sometimes get her down, it’s been a long time since Rochford let her diagnosis affect her outlook on life.
“I always tell people that you shouldn’t be afraid to jump. Somewhere between where you jump and where you land, you do grow wings. You’ll figure it out. You’ll make it work.”
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