January is always a depressing month. Christmas is over, everyone is tired, cold, hungry and sober. Long nights turn into grey days and positive energy seems to drain from our bodies, running out alongside our streaming noses and bleary eyes. Yet for me, the thought of January this year was that much harder to stomach. In October 2015 my mum (or Marge as she is known to me) was diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors remained positive, it was contained to one breast and hadn’t reached the lymph nodes, but a gruelling itinerary of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and herceptin now lay ahead. Starting in January.
January dread now had a whole new dimension and as the month started I found myself drowning in my fears and frustrations yet was unable to vocalise it. Talks led to tears and I have never been one to show my emotions in public. Yet as the day of Marge’s first chemo session drew closer, I realised that self-isolation was not a constructive coping mechanism. I could be using my energy for something positive. That’s when it clicked: positive energy is what Marge will be needing most throughout her treatment and what is the key to energy? Food.
I have always loved to cater for other people, to share foods and nourish those closest to me. Cooking for someone is a universal act of love, it brings people together and lifts people’s moods. So I decided to try and find ‘the recipe for recovery’, to show care outside of medicines and hospital treatments. I would ensure Marge is eating the right foods to make her body and her immune system as fit as they can be, to give her energy and strength, to make her feel better – physically, emotionally and mentally, and to help her body cope with side-effects of aggressive treatment.
Having always had a keen interest in nutrition and healthy eating, I already had an idea as to the kind of things I needed to make sure mum was eating. Nutritionally dense food, those ingredients that provide a wide variety of nutrients in vast amounts, were to be at the forefront of all meal ideas. I would need a variety of fresh and colourful ingredients, choosing lots of fruit and veg, less meat of better quality and always selecting whole foods, avoiding those that are heavily processed. Balance will be key.
This is the intention anyway. From doing my research I can see that the journey is not going to be easy or straightforward. Cancer patients have small appetites and treatment can limit what patients can and want to eat, with tastes changing frequently. So I think my approach, or ‘basic recipe’, will have to be this: always cook fresh, always try to make it look appetising (taste may be affected but other senses aren’t) but, most importantly, let Marge take the lead; the approach may have to change according to how she feels. At the end of the day this is to make her feel better – enjoying food with others will give her a taste of normality and pleasure – and this is the most vital ingredient of all.