“Being diagnosed with cancer didn’t make me special, it made me normal”

MasterChef 2016 champ Jane Devonshire recalls how her attitude towards food changed after her cancer diagnosis and explains her admiration for cancer survivors who “immerse” themselves in the cancer world

Chef Jane Devonshire

Last year, she tingled the taste buds of tough judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace with her delicious, classic British dishes to be awarded BBC’s MasterChef champion.

Almost two years, later food enthusiast Jane Devonshire is having the time of her life – sharing her culinary skill and knowledge with the masses. But with her incredible win, also came a shocking revelation.

Jane revealed at the end of MasterChef that she had been battling cancer for ten years before appearing on the show. She had chosen not to tell the judges – nor the programme producers – of her story during the competition.

“I did not want my time on MasterChef to be about that,” she explained when she first won. “This is not about cancer but about me – a home cook, an ordinary stay-at-home mum stepping outside her comfort zone and following a lifelong passion for food.”

Talking to Live Better With, Jane, 51, added: “Being diagnosed with cancer, unfortunately, didn’t make me special, it made me normal. But winning MasterChef, that’s what made me stand out from the crowd.”

Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer in early January 2007, it later recurred in her liver, and she has been in remission for the last four years.

For Jane, cooking came naturally. Her father, a market trader, was always bringing home fresh ingredients. Her mother was a traditional home cook and her grandmother would make toffee apples and honeycomb for the residents on her street. Being surrounded by cooks, it’s no wonder Jane fell in love with cooking too. But when she was diagnosed with cancer, her attitude towards food made a slight shift.

Food lover Jane Devonshire
Jane with her family, left to right: Harry, 18, Ben, 14, Rebecca, 22, husband Mark, 51 and Sam, 24

“When I was ill, it was very important to me to put a meal on the table. The children were very young and it was important that they could see their mum doing something ‘normal’, even if it was only scrambled eggs.

“But when I was very ill, I had mouth ulcers and I couldn’t eat anything spicy, and instead ate what I call ‘nursery food’, or the food I grew up with. My mother came to help me and I ate chicken soup and shepherd’s pies and those sorts of comfort food things.”

Last month, the mother-of-four joined the judging panel of the Live Better With Spotlight Awards. She had the challenging task of voting for the best of the best among the cancer community. Categories included Best Blogger, Best Book, Best Hair Loss Product and Best Eating Well Product.

Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook cancer food
The Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook won Best Eating Well Product

Despite her love of food and cooking, the Eating Well category was not her favourite to judge. In fact, it was the Remarkable Person group of nominations, that Jane enjoyed judging the most.

“I just found them all incredibly inspirational. I would have awarded them all if I could!”

Jane works with several cancer charities, in particular, Ark Cancer Centre Charity and Breast Cancer Haven. But she says that “as someone who survived, I need to distance myself from the day to day living of it.”

That’s why she was so in awe of the Remarkable Person candidates – many of whom have battled cancer and then made it their mission to work with the cancer community to raise awareness.

Jane continued: “I can not believe the bravery of these people who go back in and immerse themselves.  I think people who immerse themselves in the cancer world to help others, I find them incredible. They’ve found the strength to help others.”

Jane Devonshire was one of our four fantastic judges for the inaugural Spotlight Awards. You can read all about our Spotlight Award winners here.

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