Last year, chef Kevin Gillespie was stunned when doctors gave him the news that he had cancer. He struggled with the diagnosis of renal cancer, and whether and how to share that dreaded news with family, friends, peers and the general public who have come to know him through his Top Chef appearance as well as dining at his Atlanta establishments Gunshow and Revival.
On May 24, 2018, Gillespie underwent a procedure to remove the cancerous kidney.
“I feel like I dodged not a bullet, but an atom bomb,” Gillespie told the AJC in an interview a month later while recovering from the medical procedure. “The kind of cancer that I had is so fatal because it’s not detected. It doesn’t have symptoms. You don’t feel sick. You wake up one morning and you’re peeing blood, then you die a few months later.”
One year later, Gillespie remains free of cancer. He recently posted photos on Instagram, recalling the anniversary:
Gillespie had his most recent doctor visit last week.
“They said everything looked great. They did full blood work and a CAT scan. It didn’t show anything.”
Gillespie will continue to visit his renal specialist every year for the next five years, along with annual checks-ups with his primary care provider.
To celebrate his positive report, Gillespie headed to the Georgia coast to help cook breakfast on the Southern Soul BBQ food truck. They fed nearly 200 people.
“I have tremendous energy levels,” Gillespie said. He said that his activity levels noticeably improved beginning in September, three months post-operation.
“We’ll be testing the boundaries of that energy really soon,” he added, referencing two concepts currently in the works -- downtown breakfast and lunch spot Ole Reliable and Eastside BeltLine venture Cold Beer. The former will open in roughly two weeks and Cold Beer is pegged to open around the Fourth of July, he said.
But Gillespie is approaching these openings differently than with previous concepts. Cancer has changed him.
“I’m much more mindful,” he said. “I see things very different from before.”
That means not feeling guilty about taking time for himself, such as to eat or sleep. “I shouldn’t feel guilty about prioritizing my own wellness. I am only good to my team if I can truly be present,” he said.
When Gillespie initially learned he had cancer, his Red Beard restaurant group issued a statement requesting privacy: “As he recovers, Kevin requests that he and his family are afforded the time and space to fully restore his health.” However, after further reflection, Gillespie became more open about sharing his cancer journey, including with the public.
“Being direct and vocal about it was the right thing to do because I needed help,” Gillespie said.
To others who face a battle with cancer, Gillespie offers these words of encouragement: “It is OK to be terrified. If you are not scared, then you are not taking it seriously enough.”
In addition, he says that it is important to “realize your one and only job is to continue to live. Get rid of the guilt and anguish that you are letting people down because you are sick,” Gillespie said. “I believe it made a big difference for me. I got better quickly because I focused on being better.”
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