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Photo courtesy of the Nashville Food Project

Nashville food ministry founder writes of cancer and faith in posthumous memoir

Tallu Schuyler Quinn, 42, changed the lives of many by creating the Nashville Food Project. In addition to contributing to food scarcity programs in her home state, she also shared her celebration of life while dealing with terminal brain cancer with inspiration and clarity.

Quinn died in February of 2022. Her posthumous memoir, “What We Wish Were True,” details her pain, love and accomplishments while battling glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. Like in a diary, Quinn shared her deepest moments and reflections on death and life. It’s an inspiring and tender narrative that offers encouragement for people who want to better celebrate their own lives.

After the initial diagnosis, Quinn lost some of her senses — the first being her eyesight. Quinn was accustomed to doing manual labor, such as sewing, knitting and cooking, but these hobbies quickly became limited.

Quinn said in her book that this loss of sense awakened other abilities in her.

“There are many ways to see, and physical sight is only one,” she said. “By losing my ability to see as clearly as before, I am entering into a new understanding of my identity.”

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Photo courtesy of the Nashville Food Project

Her resilience was in noticing what was strengthening while other senses were weakening. Meditation and prayer became more frequent and more connected to her creativity.

Dealing with death without losing herself and overcoming a moment of grief also had a connection to her family lineage.

“I feel (their presence) deeply as I face my own death,” she said of family members that had passed. “I am carried by them…”

This love was in her relationships — with God; her children, Lulah and Thomas; and her husband, Robbie. She often celebrated the most mundane moments of everyday life because those were the ones that always became special.

“God’s loving presence has been just one truth of my life,” Quinn said, “and it has been in the emptiest, slowest, or even most painful moments that I can feel this divine love and the strength of its companionship the most.”

Food, besides being a personal hobby for Quinn, was the way she said God pulled her into ministry. Working with the Nashville Food Project, a good meal was the core of who she was. The organization was born with the purpose to plant, harvest and share so Nashville residents would have access to the healthy food they needed.

After 11 years, the Nashville Food Project has had a significant impact on the city. With nearly 17,000 hours of volunteer time, over 145,000 pounds of food donated and over $1 million donated, the organization has put stewardship value into action in new ways.

The project also has a fund in Quinn’s honor to support its work.

“We are collectively as a team and as a community really grieving this loss,” Chief Operating Officer Teri Sloan told The Tennessean after Quinn’s death.

Quinn’s legacy proves she was dedicated to humanity both for herself and for those in her community, and her book is a beautiful reflection of that.

Released by Penguin Random House, “What We Wish Were True: Reflections on Nurturing Life and Facing Death” can be purchased at major bookstores

Camila da Silva is an intern for Religion Unplugged, Brazilian reporter and the 2022 Arne Fjeldstad scholar at the John McCandlish Phillips Journalism Institute at The King’s College in New York. You can find her on Instagram @silva.jornalismo.