TC’s Big Yes

Tom "TC" Cheever. Photo Credit from Jennifer Hancock Ferguson
Tom “TC” Cheever. Photo Credit from Jennifer Hancock Ferguson

There’s no easy recipe for dealing with pancreatic cancer.

In a space where I rely on certain structures of form, images, and ideas, I can’t find a formula to talk about profound grief. I can’t make the connections between a recipe, a photo, and words of sorrow. How does a culinary writer approach the topic of death and not reference about food? Is it appropriate to talk about loss and an easy-to-make pizza?

Ever since I found out pancreatic cancer took my friend Tom “TC” Cheever in January I’ve struggled to find a way to express my grief.

Just 43 years old, my friend was a well-respected improvisational comedian, sketch comedy writer, the father of three beautiful kids, a loving partner, and friend to all who knew him. No one expected pancreatic cancer could overtake the bright light that was TC. I certainly didn’t. He was a big, hearty guy with a laugh that could wring the awkwardness from any moment.

TC embodied improvisational comedy’s most important rule: say yes to everything. He leapt into improvised scenes with a big smile and his arms outstretched like a catcher ready for anything. I swear, he made every scene he was in better.

But now that TC’s gone, I’m left with an unexpected void and an uneasy silence.

The inelegant return

There is no dish that pairs well with pancreatic cancer. No well-lit photo of a plate of food to distract myself from the sadness. No pithy story that ties up the ends of a beautiful life cut short by fate in tasteful bows.

I can not turn to a traditional post to find my way through this. Instead, I celebrate my friend’s life through memories and story telling with friends. I fill up the space with love and service–getting into action is always the best way to move through pain and fear–but it’s a slow, incremental process to mend the fissure.

“I have nothing to complain about in my life,” TC said in a speech he wrote for his memorial. “And neither should you.”

It’s true. There’s nothing to complain about. I am alive. I have words to play with. Meals to make with friends. Time left to show up and –if I can muster it– be of service to everyone I meet.

TC taught me to say YES to everything–even the hard stuff. Say yes to the sadness. Say yes to the discomfort. Say yes to healing. Yes to the possibility of what the next yes will bring.




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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.


  1. April 15

    It’s always so eye opening to me to see how friends who know they are dying share such a wise perspective. I wish we could have that kind of clarity without the loss.
    Hugs to you!

  2. April 15

    I never wrot you, I´m a silent reader of your blog. But I understand the feeling, six months ago I lost my father. The week he passed away was very dificult to post something, to write anything. Luckily there´s a lot of people that understands and comforts you.
    It sounds that your friend was amazing, and you were lucky to get to know him so much. The grief is something that, as far as I understand, you will carry for lifetime. Until this day I can´t believe I cannot see my father. Thank you for the words, maybe writing this post heped you in some way. I´ll remember your friend words whenever I have tears in my eyes.
    Yes 🙂

  3. So sorry for your loss, Brooke. Life teaches us so many things, including saying yes to everything because we will never know what is in store in future. No regrets, and say yes!

  4. This is the first blog post that I have read of yours and I am going to become an ardent fan. Your writing has captured the emotions of so many of us who have experienced the loss of loved ones. You have eloquently reminded us of the need to savor every minute of every day — good or bad — and to appreciate the positive qualities in all whose paths we cross…pain and joy.

    I am certain your high quality of life will be reflected in all of your writings, no matter what the exact subject.

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