The day of Marge’s chemo finally arrived. The start of the ‘those four months’. If anything, I found myself feeling almost relieved. Yes it was going to be difficult, probably at times unbearable, but at least something was being done. The waiting and the unknown had been tormenting our family for months now and this was the start of the next chapter.
The lack of news was the hardest thing about that day. I had not managed to see Mum before heading off to work in the morning and I knew that, once she was in that chair, I would probably not get an update until it was all over. The overriding message that I had got from the nurses, internet and anecdotal stories was that everyone deals with chemotherapy differently. Whilst some patients cope well (with both the chemo itself and the cold cap which mum was using to try and prevent hair loss), others do not. Chemo day was a waiting game and I was completely oblivious to the odds.
Finally at 4.30pm my phone screen sprang to life. A message from Marge:
“…Went well and managed to stick with the cold cap so very pleased about that.”
As I read, a wave of relief surged through my body, breaking in my mouth forcing me to let out a huge sigh. That was the best news possible.
Of course this was just the start. Chemotherapy is an incredibly aggressive treatment which attacks dividing cells in the body, both malignant and normal. So it can cause unpleasant side-effects such as severe nausea, extreme tiredness and mouth ulcers. Despite Marge saying she was currently feeling OK, her body was now under a lot of stress and I wanted to ensure it was in the best position to cope with what was to come.
Everyone knows there’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow… And by eating a rainbow you will end up glowing yourself, inside and out. By consuming a wide variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables, you will ensure that your body is getting the nutrients and phytochemicals it needs to be at its strongest, for every colour represents a different spectrum and these work together to promote health (to read more on this I would recommend Neal’s Yard Remedies: Healing Foods). So that was what was on the menu: colour! And it came in the form of Salmon, Beetroot and Greens Pilaf, a recipe packed with health-boosting, delicious ingredients.
Except, sadly, Marge missed out on all of them. Having taken a turn for the worst shortly after I began cooking, she was unable to stomach such vibrant colours, tastes and textures. Feeling nauseous and suffering from flu-like symptoms, all she managed to eat that evening was toast and biscuits, washed down with hot chocolate. I realised that had ran before I could walk, that the days immediately following a chemo session were the days when Marge was likely to feel at her sickest – such strong flavours would not sit well. So straight after chemo = plain, plain, plain.
Yet this was always going to be a learning curve and I just had to try and work out the best approach. The pilaf I cooked was absolutely delicious, full of nutrients and looked beautiful, the spiced turmeric quinoa and rice laced with the decadent darkness of the greens and beetroot yet lifted by the soft pink of the salmon. A meal ideally for once the sickness of the chemo has gone and you are looking to make up for lack of nutrition in the days immediately succeeding treatment.
Beetroots have a unique group of antioxidants called betacyanins. These give beetroots their deep colour and are the reason for their many medicinal benefits including supporting the liver, improving circulation and purifying the blood. Make sure you eat the leaves too, as these are even more nutrient packed than the root, being rich in vitamin K and beta-carotene.
Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which protect the cardiovascular and nervous systems. It is also uniquely rich in solenium, which together with these omega-3 fatty acids help to lower blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels in the blood and inflammation, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Recipe: Salmon, Beetroot and Greens Pilaf
- 4 small beetroots, leaves and stalks reserved
- 150g wholgrain rice
- 75g quinoa
- Fish stock (optional)
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 4 salmon fillets
- 150g greens, shredded
- Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Juice 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6/fan 180°C.
- Place the brown rice in a saucepan and cover with 450ml water or stock (so that there is about 3cm of water above the rice). Bring to the boil then put a lid on and simmer for 30 minutes, or until done to taste.
- Wrap each beetroot in foil and roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender.
- Place the quinoa in a separate pan and, again, cover with 300ml water or stock. Cook for 15 minutes until all the liquid has absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy but not mushy.
- Meanwhile heat 1 tbsp coconut oil in a wide-based pan and fry the onion until golden. Add the spices and fry for a further couple of minutes.
- Once the rice and the quinoa are cooked, drain any excess liquid and add to the pan with the onions; mix well.
- Heat the remaining coconut oil in a frying pan and fry skin-side down for three minutes. Turn over and cook for a further two minutes, or until cooked through. Transfer to a plate.
- In the same pan, add the greens and beetroot leaves along with a splash of water and cook until wilted.
- Peel the beetroot and cut into cubes and toss through the rice and quinoa mixture along with the greens. Flake in the salmon, then pour in the lemon juice and scatter over the parsley. Toss to combine.