Life is like a rack of seasonings offering different flavours. This has been Dr Angela Mak’s experience at different stages of her life.

Awarded a scholarship upon graduation with First Class Honours in her Bachelor’s degree and MPhil programme from the School of Communication, Angela went to the University of Oregon in the United States to do a PhD in Public Relations. It was not long after the September 11 terrorist attacks, so the whole nation was still in a pall of gloom. Angela recalls, “Witnessing their trauma, I could empathise but could not help. At the same time, I was struggling with a heavy load of assignments and missing my parents who were facing the Asian financial crisis in Hong Kong. It was a tough time for me.” Although Angela tasted sourness in life at the time, with great perseverance and strenuous effort, she successfully obtained her doctorate within three years and embarked on her career in the United States.

Right at the prime time of her life, Angela, who became a mother in 2007, experienced bitterness. She was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer (stage III) soon after she gave birth to her daughter. Thinking of her young daughter, she was determined to do everything she could to fight the disease. She bravely followed her doctor’s advice and underwent the latest radiotherapy treatment. She recalls, “Both chemotherapy and radiotherapy tortured me. Towards the end of my therapy, my salivary glands were damaged and my sense of taste seriously faded. I had mouth ulcers and could hardly swallow any solid food, so I had to go on a liquid diet to minimise the pain. My daughter was my pillar of strength. As long as I looked at her, I could somehow taste some sweetness in anything I ate even though I had lost my sense of taste.” 

The bitterness brought by Angela’s illness was leavened by a pinch of sweetness. Among the sweet moments in life, nothing can surpass the happiness of family life with her daughter. Despite her hectic schedule, she would drop off and pick up her daughter to and from school herself, listening to her sharing bits and pieces of her daily life. Angela also insisted on cooking for her family, in the hope that her daughter would remember mom’s cooking when she grew up. She is also deeply grateful to her husband for staying by her side and taking good care of both her and their daughter. She also truly appreciates the love and care of her relatives, friends, colleagues, students as well as her brothers and sisters in Christ.

With an iron will, she won the fight against cancer and after six months, her sense of taste returned. She then began to think about how she could make good use of her strength and bring changes to society and help cancer patients. As she found that the majority of Chinese people have lots of taboos related to patients’ diets, which are quite diverse, she led a group of students from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore in 2011 in working with the National Cancer Centre Singapore to publish a book entitled Sharing Plates. Last year she joined her alma mater, HKBU, as a teaching staff. Again, she produced Sharing Plates Hong Kong in collaboration with Hong Kong Cancer Fund, Dr Dang Yi of the School of Chinese Medicine, students and alumni of the School of Communication, and top chef Mr Ricky Cheung.

Sharing her conviction, Angela says, “Being sick never only affects patients. Their families also suffer, though not physically. I hope the book, Sharing Plates Hong Kong, which is more than just a book of recipes, can comfort patients and their families like chicken soup for the soul. It contains sharing by cancer patients and caregivers on their fight against cancer. We have also invited some patients to recommend recipes and assessed the efficacy of each recipe from Chinese and Western medicine perspectives. We hope to encourage cancer patients to keep enjoying food so that they can be adequately nourished to battle the disease.”

Having experienced the sour, sweet, bitter and spicy tastes of life, Angela lives with an open mind. “I enjoy my life very much. My experiences have turned my life into one with more flavours.”