Review: ‘Cooking Through Cancer,’ And Reclaiming The Joy Of Food

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By Pamela Post-Ferrante
Guest contributor

Pamela Post-Ferrante is the author of “Writing & Healing: A Mindful Guide for Cancer Survivors.”

When I took “The Lahey Clinic Guide to Cooking Through Cancer” out of its gray plastic mailing wrapper, I was immediately struck by the book’s beauty.

Dominating the 8×10 cover, a large glossy photograph of a lightly browned chicken with rosemary potatoes glistened with warmth. Warmth straight from the oven, or perhaps simply the warmth of comfort. Comfort food.

What surprised me about this new book was that it included such a gamut of foods, when so many of us limit our foods in hope of better health. As a four- time cancer survivor, I remember the surgeries and treatments as times of culinary disinterest. And, in the years since, to try to stay cancer free, I have become strict and limited in my eating. Delight or comfort have not registered in my thinking about food.  I discovered I had food allergies and have been abstaining from sugar, dairy and wheat — as best I can — since cancer.  And I know of those who choose to go macrobiotic, raw or begin juicing.

‘The book is about reclaiming something that cancer frequently takes away from people – the enjoyment of food.’

But many are eating simply according to their type of cancer and treatments, and how they are affected by these. So, my first few days of thumbing through this sumptuous book — with its many full page and smaller photos for each recipe, shot with the eye of a master artist catching colors and textures and almost aromas — I kept thinking, “Thank you.” Thank you, Lahey Clinic Sophia Gordon Cancer Center, for knowing what the beauty of food means to someone’s experience of cancer. Past or present. And, I can use many of the recipes.  Some fit into my restrictions or can be used with slight substitutions, still giving me a sense of a beautiful meal.

Then I began to read. The book includes one hundred plus well-organized recipes, mainly for what I’d call regular people food: Bread and Butter Pudding, Roasted Red Pepper Meat Loaf, Soba Noodle Salad, Miso-Glazed Cod.

The preface — written by the chair of Hematology and Oncology at the Sophia Gordon Cancer Center, Dr. Keith Stuart — explains the love and care of the design, photographs and recipes. Dr. Stuart says, “The book is about reclaiming something that cancer frequently takes away from people — the enjoyment of food — and using this as a way to assert control over at least this one aspect of your life and health.”

He goes on to say that food is necessary to keep up strength and that cancer and its treatments can cause many changes in ability to eat and sometimes even swallow. And so, there is another layer to this book.  The recipes are organized and put into categories, defined by symptom or condition,  that occur to some or many in different treatments and with different kinds of cancer. It goes from “Sore Mouth” to “Weight loss” from “Nausea” to “Neutropenia.”

At the start of each of the seven categories there is a discussion of the particular symptom, why it occurs in cancer or is brought on by its treatment, and a suggestion of symptom management. There is also a list of Foods to Try or Foods to Avoid, (sometimes both) before the dozen or more recipes and photographs.

Then there is an eighth and final category: “Celebrations,” because there are times when one should  mark good news in a blood test or other improvement. Times when one reaches a treatment passage or ends treatment, passing from patient to survivor. And this book honors these passages with food to celebrate with. It  does so enticingly, with recipes for a Lobster Pot Pie, a Celebration Cake (decorated with colored frosting, flowers and spangled blue butterflies flying on toothpicks) LiMango Frappes, and if so inclined, a Sunrise Martini.

I am not  a nutritionist, but the team that produced this book includes dietary clinicians.  I am a pursuer of what can benefit cancer patients and survivors, and this book fits the criteria.  It is full of beauty and help and joy.

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