It was April Fool’s Day when local chef Carl Schaubhut received the news, and it clearly was no joke: The camera inserted down his throat to explore the shooting stomach pains he endured revealed it wasn’t heartburn after all.
“The doctor came in with a look of panic in his eyes,” Schaubhut said. “He said what I have is a very large tumor in the junction of my stomach and esophagus, and he’s about 99 percent sure it’s cancerous. At that point, his lips were moving, but I wasn’t hearing anything he was saying.”
Schaubhut’s wife, Alix, kept listening and kept asking questions and learned the tumor had already spread to the 32-year-old’s esophagus and surrounding lymph nodes.
Young adults fighting cancer is a battle The Drew Rodrigue Foundation knows all too well. Named in honor of Drew Rodrigue, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 20 and died at age 27, the foundation helps young people fighting against unimaginable adversity. One of those early supporters of the foundation was Schaubhut, a Jesuit High School classmate and friend of Rodrigue’s.
“It was a no-brainer for the foundation to dedicate efforts to help Carl,” said Mary Kathryn Rodrigue, recalling Schaubhut’s friendship and support during her late husband’s diagnosis and treatment. “Pretty much everybody is affected by cancer one way or another, right? Whether it’s a family member or a friend or a co-worker with cancer, we are all affected.”
Schaubhut’s culinary family of chefs and restaurateurs in New Orleans, led by the DRF, plans to “Kick Cancer in the Gut” with an extensive offering from the kitchens of Commander’s Palace, Cafe Adelaide and Sobou, unlimited libations, silent auction and live music the evening of June 28 at The Cannery, with $75 tickets open to the public. All of the proceeds will benefit Schaubhut’s family while the chef is out of the kitchen. Any unused contributions will be donated to cancer research and patient support programs through the DRF.
“It’s really about celebrating our culture, which is food, and the people who bring it to us in such a creative way, like Carl,” Rodrigue said.
“Surreal” is the word Schaubhut uses to describe his experience as of late with intense chemotherapy aimed at stopping the cancer from spreading as he awaits the surgery where his esophagus will be removed and refashioned from stomach tissue — a professional irony that contributes to the strangeness of his situation.
“I’m alive! I was in the kitchen today,” Schaubhut said. “I didn’t even lose my hair through chemo! I’m walking around. I’m not frail; I don’t even look sick. I’ve never been a charity case.”
Schaubhut’s cancer is only in surrounding lymph nodes, which is good news. Schaubhut said all the statistics about his condition have been thrown out the window because, typically, people his age aren’t diagnosed.
“I’ve literally never missed work a day in my life; I’ve never had a broken bone,” Schaubhut said. “Outside of my chef lifestyle, I don’t have crazy vices. I mean, I like to drink and I like to eat and I like to have fun, but nothing over the top.”
Schaubhut said people often ask him if he is angry or upset by his diagnosis. His reply: no. Everyone has something they’re going to go through, he said, be it medical issues, hardships, even death.
“This is mine. Whatever the reason, that’s what it is,” Schaubhut said. “The way I deal with adversity determines my character and how I live the rest of my life. I’d rather live my life not being able to eat the things I used to eat and remaining positive. That’s the only option I really have. I have to be an example for my kids, my family, my wife.
“It’s harder for her than it is for me by far,” Schaubhut said of his wife. “I get so many calls and people wishing me well. They don’t call me, for whatever reason, so her phone is constantly ringing. She’s dealing with this from the front lines.”
Schaubhut said most people who die young never get a chance to see how they’ve affected other people’s lives, and it’s humbling for him to receive letters of encouragement from people he went to grammar school with and financial donations from people he has cooked for.
“It’s really just surreal to get to see how the way you live your life has affected other people,” he said.
Schaubhut said he feels bad for the people he sees on the cancer floor by themselves. One patient told him he’s been on chemo for 11 straight years.
“If everything works out for me the way we hope it does,” Schaubhut said, “then I’ll be the luckiest person on Earth.”
“Whether or not you know Carl, this is a chance for people to participate in something bigger than themselves,” Rodrigue said. “It’s something that allows you to help another person, and if that person is a stranger to you, it’s a beautiful thing.”
For more information or to buy tickets to the event, visit www.drfnola.org.