A little help from food through a cancer journey.
My family home is very dedicated to food; it has two kitchens. One in the basement is my dad’s “laboratory” where he spend many long hours preparing meals requiring lots of work, long stews, seafood, jams and preserves to name a few. The other kitchen on the ground floor is the heart of the house. We cook there but there is a long table and a bench and we spend many hours doing the eating, the talking there. This is where we do the more noble art of baking cakes too…and is my mother’s domain.
One of my fondest memory was a meal I wanted to share with my family and friends back in France; it was a couple of weeks after my last session of chemotherapy and although I could feel I was getting better, I was still very tired. However, the prospect of this meal gave me a wonderful boost of energy. I wanted to thank people who supported me directly but also those of them who supported my own family, my parents in particular-our close loved ones do suffer the impact of the diagnosis, they may feel scared and worried, not wanting to talk about it for fear of not looking or sounding strong enough-they also need support.
In this part of France where my family lives, there are not many occasions to eat Indian food and curries; I found them so delicious I thought it would be a really good choice to wow them.
I planned the meal, looking up delicious recipes which I wrote in one of the journals that I kept at the time, where I kept my thoughts and recipes, information about cancer and diet, and appointments or lists of things to do.
I enrolled everyone present; my parents, cousins, friends, brother and sister in law and any unfortunate visitors-to cook prepare the table, serve the meal, open the wine. On that occasion however, both the kitchens were buzzing, pots were on every single ring of both the hobs.
We worked together and created a beautiful tasty meal. The time spent in the kitchen was fantastic, we were doing something together, my “helpers” were delighted to learn new recipes and it was not only a help but also an exchange of skills. We pondered about how much garlic was needed to make it authentic. One of my cousin complained about having garlic smelly fingers for days onwards for having peeled a mountain of the stuff. But she did not regret it one iota. Her husband brought his infamous chocolate gooey cake and many guests added to the lists of puddings too.
In my naivety I was worried there would be lots of left overs. Nothing of the kind and pots were pretty empty by the time the meal was over. Everyone ravenously devoured everything, chatting and making merry too.
Ideally the recipes I share with the "Healthy cooking for cancer patients and carers" with the Sara Lee trust should be suitable for the whole family; there should be no need to cook different meals to satisfy everyone.
In the best case scenario, everyone in the household could gather and take part in the preparing of the meal, sharing and making it a special moment and a fun experience rather than a chore. Seating at a table, peeling vegetables and chatting is a wonderful occasion to bring people together, support each other and very importantly the person who is not well, it is one way to unite around them.
In my personal experience with going through cancer, food was an ally to become stronger and feel better even at the hardest times of the surgery and treatment. Being cooked for, and cooking with others, managing to cook myself when I felt better was something very special and a source of joy too. I cherished it particularly not only because it helped me but also because it gave my family and friends a very tangible and practical way to show their support rather than just wonder what they could do whilst walking on egg shells and avoiding to talk about the issue.
This is really the one big thing I want to share with anyone taking part in the sessions.
To fight it one needs to have strength.
Mindful cooking is not only about being aware of the ingredients used and feeling the goodness and strength they bring to you at a time you really need it, but also about being open to possibilities and variety. One thing a lot of patients complain about I the lack of guidance when it comes to food from the medical profession. Unless you go to see a dietician and have in a way food prescribed to you, what we are generally told is that we should eat “a variety of foods”. I used to feel infuriated with this, thinking I needed something more substantial. However, there is something about this advice which on reflection is very useful.
Good supportive food is not just about banning the baddies and bringing on the healthy, possibly tasteless boring food but to strike the right balance with eating as much as possible what is good for you, but also experiencing the joy of eating something really delicious.
The balance is what will have the best benefits. Eat well, healthily, but also having a treat. If we approach healthy reinforcing eating as something restrictive and punitive chances are the feeling will be sadness and stress rather than excitement and appetite.