The salvation of her daily bread

Former flight attendant Angsumarin Lauruengtana was left heartbroken after leaving her dream career due to health problems - but dough was her unlikely salvation

Former cabin crew Angsumarin Lauruengtana opened her own bread shop last year after suffering from SLE. PHOTO: Thawatchai Kemgumnerd.

The tagline for her bakery reads: All sorrows are less with bread. To some people, it may be just a catchy slogan. To baker Angsumarin Lauruengtana, however, it's a lifeline.

Angsumarin, 35, thought her life was moving along smoothly when it took a sharp, tumultuous turn five years ago.

Newly married, the Thammasat University graduate was enjoying her dream career as a flight attendant when all of a sudden she felt numb on one side of her face.

At first, she was diagnosed as suffering from Bell's Palsy. The numbness did not stop, however. Instead, it gradually spread until it engulfed the entire left side of her body.

An MRI showed her brain's blood vessels were slightly narrowed. Further blood checks found she was suffering from the immune deficiency disease Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, or SLE.

"I felt very sad. I had been a flight attendant for many years and I loved the job. I love travelling, seeing the world. Money was also good which was helpful as my family was not that rich," Angsumarin said.

Angsumarin and husband Nikorn Sripongwarakul, who has supported her through the tough times.

The former cabin crew now runs a bakery called Craft Bread, recognised by many publications as being among Bangkok's best suppliers of organic, non-dairy loaves and buns.

Angsumarin considers herself lucky she stumbled upon baking as it not only gave her a means to earn a living but has helped heal her soul when she felt she had lost everything worthwhile.

The disease, which requires her to lead a healthy, stress-free life, prompted Angsumarin to leave her job as a cabin crew member. Unemployed, Angsumarin's days were filled with uncertainties about her health and worries about how to support herself and her family.

"I was very stressed. I thought I was at the prime of my life, building a family and everything. I had never run into such a major crisis before. Life had been normal up to that point," the accidental baker said.

At the end, however, she began to realise that worrying was no use. Life had to go on even though she didn't yet know at that time in what way or how. As she looked for something to do, one thing she tried was a course on baking bread.

Angsumarin admitted she was not an exceptional student but one thing she found while working with the dough was exactly what she had lost -- happiness.

"It was not just about losing a job, but also my self-worth," Angsumarin recalled. "It was like the life that I had known and enjoyed had ended and I didn't know what lay beyond the disruption. That is where the sadness lay. That is where the difficulties were."

Since bread-making seemed to give her peace of mind, Angsumarin spent more time baking at home. She had just a small oven, capable of baking two loafs at a time.

To find a peace of mind, former cabin attendant Angsumarin Lauruengtana bakes a variety of non-diary, organic bread. PHOTO: Thawatchai Kemgumnerd.

Asked what she found to be therapeutic about making bread, Angsumarin said it's probably how baking compelled her to stay focused as she had to pay attention not just to the ingredients but their qualities, even humidity in the air, to ensure that her bread would come out balanced.

An ability to do something with her bare hands while producing something edible is also satisfying, according to Angsumarin. An art lover who also enjoys photography, Angsumarin found bread-making allowed her to stay in the moment.

"When working with the dough or kneading, the thinking tends to stop. It's like meditation," she said.

As she gave some of the bread away to her friends and family, she started to wonder whether she could make her products better and healthier.

Angsumarin's organic, non-dairy bread is a preferred choice among many health-conscious people.

"While I find the smell of butter and milk delightful, I think a non-dairy choice could be more wholesome, especially for health-conscious people. I wondered whether I would be able to make healthy bread that would make me feel better as I give it away," she said.

Angsumarin experimented with some recipes using only healthy ingredients, including whole-wheat organic flour, coconut oil and honey. Before long, people who got to taste her vegan bread suggested that she sell it.

With her oven, Angsumarin began to sell her bread through Facebook and Instagram. Through word of mouth and increasing publicity, her business soon expanded from some 20 loaves a day to several hundred.

"Is it tiring to bake that many loaves? Yes, extremely. But all kinds of work are exhausting I believe. At least, I am doing something I enjoy," Angsumarin said. Last year, Angsumarin decided to open a small shop after demand kept increasing. Things seemed to be going well when Craft Bread customers received a note in the middle of last year that the business would be closed temporarily.

As it turned out, Angsumarin found a lump in her arm. It was thought to be a cyst but a biopsy revealed that it was soft tissue sarcoma, a kind of cancer.

"I faltered again emotionally and fell into another bout of sadness," Angsumarin said.

What struck so hard this time was surgery to remove the tumour prevented her from using her arm and hand and deprived her of an opportunity to keep on making bread which had served not only as a means to make a living but for her to feel alive.

"What scared me most was I might not be able to make bread again. That was the bluest thought, my biggest fear," Angsumarin said. But again, she refused to let the disease bring her down.

"I was initially shocked when the cancer was found but then I thought what can I do? I am already suffering from it. It's like I have entered a battlefield. I have no choice but to fight on or wait for death," Angsumarin said.

The tumour was classified to be at early, stage-one development. After a four-month rest, the baker was declared to be physically fine and fit enough to return to the bread-making business, to the delight of her customers.

While admitting that she is not completely free from anxiety and there are still times when she would lapse into depression, Angsumarin said she slowly feels like she has covered the transition and entered a new phase in her life.

It is a much more stationary one than the globetrotting phase she used to enjoy but it's not all that bad.

"I have begun to think that since all of us have to get sick at one point in our life, it's probably good that I ran into it early on," Angsumarin said. "This way, I had time to seek treatment. I also had a chance to make necessary changes."

She added that it might sound like a paradox, but suffering was the exact source of healing.

"Unless we run into a real suffering, we would not have known what it is like," Angsumarin said. Because of the illnesses, she has found true friends, supportive customers who have stuck around through thick and thin and a true calling that has renewed her passion for life.

"When faced with a crisis, I have learned nothing can give us security but our own mind. Our health can fail. We may work with the most stable organisation but that may change anytime.

"My life has run aground but I feel something good is growing. At a transition, you often feel like being a child again, unsure of everything. But I start to feel I am growing in a new life direction. I am gradually getting stronger. And I feel satisfied."


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