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Oct 3, 2008 04:23 PM

Recipes for Cancer

Hey CH'ers, I know this is a downer topic but I was wondering if you all had recipes for someone going through breast cancer. Ideally, the recipes are easy, cancer friendly (I guess easy on the stomach), healthy, cancer fighting ingredients etc etc.

I've done a lot of research on what foods are best for people going through chemo but I do not have the head for devising a menu right now so I thought I'd go to my fellow CH'ers first!

Thanks in advance everyone!

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  1. the mayo clinic has a "william sonoma" cookbook that is really great... a lot of simple and healthy food. focusing on nutrition, but also digestibility, etc. i use it frequently for taking food to new moms or people recovering from illness. it is a few years old, but you can probably find it on-line somewhere.

    1. Jacqueline:

      My girlfriend went through chemo for breast cancer a couple of years ago, and although this isn't what you want to hear, I couldn't cook a thing for her. Something that tasted good one day wouldn't stay down the next. She lived on white carbs -- potatoes, plain pasta, rice. I said, you know what, you eat now what your body tells you it can handle, and I'll cook for you when your appetite is back. And that's exactly what we did.

      In the meantime, I made her a gift basket with an oversized pink fleece sweatshirt for the days she had chemo in case she got chilly, a gel eye mask that chills in the fridge for headaches, ginger candy (which worked so I got her lots more) and ginger tea bags to soothe nausea, a CD of calming nature sounds, and I forget what else. Except the

      I found a very plain journal and told her to use it to keep track of her ups and downs, what tasted good and what didn't, what the doctors were telling her, and just day-to-day comments to help her focus on what was working for her. She totally surprised me by writing down a bunch of things she wanted to do before she died. Now that she isn't dead and can run down that list, she is doing exactly that!

      Although we want to help by feeding, sometimes a ride to chemo, doing a load of laundry, or cleaning the bathroom can be more helpful than food. If your friend has a family, then definitely consider meals for them. It's difficult to know what to do, but you'll figure it out.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nemo

        you sound like a wonderful person.

      2. Hi Jacquelines,

        I'm currently the primary caregiver & cook for my partner who is going through chemo for breast cancer. I love to cook, and I have to say that chemo has presented some mighty interesting challenges. As Nemo points out, there are such variations from day to day, and from person to person. I have been making great use of my freezer (like never before) so that I am ready to respond to the digestive track du jour, appetite level du jour, and taste bud situation du jour. Here's what tops my list:

        1. Pureed Soups: Potato-leek soup, tomato soup, zucchini-watercress soup (Silver Palate), butternut squash-pear-ginger soup. Use chicken broth for added nutrition, and throw in a piece of kombu while the soup simmers, for added minerals. They all freeze beautifully, and are the ultimate comfort food.

        2. Granola. I make my own -- a great source of fiber, protein, texture. Add plenty of raisins or other dried fruits. Many of the chemo anti-nausea meds as well as painkillers cause constipation.

        3. Roasted chicken and roasted turkey breast. So versatile - I am shocked at how many simple sandwiches I am making, so having these on hand in the fridge is a necessity. I also can toss the meat into a tortilla, or make chicken salad. Protein is so, so important while going through chemo, as I am sure you have read. This Jamie Oliver chicken dish is also one of my favorites--so easy, so good.

        4. Things with mint, cilantro, basil, lemon, ginger . . . Some days, when her sense of taste is ka-put, it's Indian & Mexican food that she craves. Tonight we had an indian dal soup (red lentils, onion, garlic, various spices, ginger, chicken broth) served over brown rice, topped with cilantro and yogurt. Mexican has also fit the bill now and then. Pesto was a hit (and yes, I have some in the freezer now!) Rice salad with extra mint went over well. This whole line of requests really surprised me. I'll never forget that, after a day of refusing simple things like watermelon she woke up the next day and declared "I want Indian food." I had whiplash.

        5. A few meals brought over by friends that we have appreciated include a roasted chicken with side dish of lentils. I added more vinegar to the lentils to give them some zing. I also was brought a nice pot of bolognese sauce, which went over well. Now I make it and freeze it. Cook's Illustrated's "The Best Make Ahead Recipe" has a good complement of recipes that have come in very handy, in part because many of them involve hefty levels of protein.

        6. You might check out the New York Times Recipes for Health section. I found some great things to do with squash and tomatoes in their recipes, all of which went over well.

        One other cookbook to look at is "One Bite at a Time." It has many good recipes that would meet your criteria,and some helpful narrative sections. I remember one bit of advice was something like 'the usual rules of eating just don't apply." I think I might use it more after chemo, actually, because during chemo it's all about trying to balance nutrition-protein-taste-calories...and making the most of every bite...whenever she wants to eat! Lke I said, I have learned to love my freezer.

        Best wishes.

        1. jacquelines, this is a tough one. I went through 6 months of chemo a little while ago and eating was really problem for me. I didn't have breast cancer - it was non-Hodgkins lymphoma - so I was probably getting a different chemo cocktail and I don't know if the difficulties will be the same. The issue for me wasn't nausea because my oncologist was able to prescribe something that pretty much knocked that problem out. It was more a matter of the loss of my sense of taste. When food doesn't have any flavor - or tastes metallic - eating becomes very unpleasant. Even water tasted bad to me!

          For a while, I really didn't want to eat much of anything at all and lost a lot of weight. It drove my husband crazy, trying to come up with something to entice me. Eventually I found that I could taste spicy foods, as well as sweet, so that's what I ate - when I was in the mood. For a while there, I was living on small meals of fiery Indian and Szechuan food (which I'd never eat before), Big Macs (the secret sauce came through loud and strong), and chocolate. I bought several cookbooks geared toward cancer patients and we ended up using none of them. You just eat what you feel like at the moment,. Make sure that some favorite jelly/jam/preserves are in the fridge - there were days when all I ate was bread with strawberry jelly. And jello came through nicely, too.

          Do keep in mind that there are specific dietary restrictions to be aware of for someone going through chemo. Because the immune system is severely compromised and contaminated food could lead to very serious complications, uncooked foods of any kind must be avoided. That means no raw fish or meat, no salads or raw vegetables, only thick-skinned fruits that can be peeled. Oranges, melons, grapefruit, bananas are okay, but wash thoroughly before slicing. Grapes, apples, plums, etc.., are out. This is a challenge, but not impossible. It's amazing how much one comes to enjoy yogurt, applesauce and ice cream!

          I wish you the kind of luck that I've had - the good kind.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Deenso

            " Oranges, melons, grapefruit, bananas are okay, but wash thoroughly before slicing. "

            Deenso, your advice is quite excellent. I'm happy to hear you are doing well! I would just add a few comments.

            Depending on the type of chemo, grapefruit might not be ideal. Grapefruit, Seville oranges, pomegranate and star fruit can interfere with the metabolism of some chemotherapy agents, and so should probably be avoided.

            Avoiding infections from food is very important, but there are times when it might be less risky. It depends on the type of chemo regiment and also on the effect on the immune system. Some of the regiments are not as hard on the white blood cell count, and if this is the case, you may be able to have a slightly more normal diet. I think it is wise to try to follow food rules and minimize the risk of severe infection, but it can get hard to avoid all uncooked foods. It is a good idea to discuss this with the medical team to properly assess your risk.

            If you want to minimize risk of severe infection, then certainly avoiding all uncooked foods is a reasonable plan. This includes uncooked cheese and deli meats, which have been implicated in recent outbreaks of severe life-threatening infections in Canada. Since there is no way to guarantee food safety throughout the food chain, the best line of defense is to only eat food that has been extremely well-cooked so as to kill off all bacteria. But this isn't always so appetizing. So it comes down to "what risk am I willing to take?" Some things are likely too high risk, like rare ground beef hamburgers. Other items, like raw grapes and apples or the odd salad, may be less risky, and worth considering. But of course, if you know you are severely neutropenic, you should take all precautions.

            I think Deenso's comment that "you just eat what you feel like at the moment" is spot on. What is appetizing one day can be terrible the next. So flexibility is very useful. Try to find out what the patient feels like eating that day, or is tolerating that day, or is craving that day, and go with the flow. And remember, everything tastes better when you don't have to make it yourself and when it is made with love by someone who cares for you.

            1. re: moh

              Thanks, moh. I do, indeed, feel great now. It's been 18 months - and three clear, normal PT scans - since I finished treatment. It's a damn good life!

              I'm glad you pointed out the gaps in my info. You're completely right about grapefruit and grapefruit juice issues. I'd forgotten about that and the problem with cheese, too. I guess I must not have been all that interested in eating cheese during that period, so it skipped my mind. (These little memory lapses? Chalk 'em up to "chemo-brain." I should have come up with some other excuse by now, though - that one only works for so long...)

              By the way, I was on a regimen my doctor called "CHOP." My blood was tested every couple of days following each chemo treatment. While I was severely neutropenic for about 10 - 12 days afterward, my doctor said it was okay to eat salads and other slightly risky foods in the day or two before the next one. So the only thing stopping me from indulging then was lack of appetite. But, trust me, it all comes back, including the weight...

              1. re: Deenso

                Deenso - I think you are allowed to use the chemo-brain excuse as long as you like! There has got to be some advantages to going through such a difficult period :) Stay healthy!

          2. Chaga is a black fungus that grows on birch trees. Teh Russian author Alexander Solzhenitzen (sp?) credited it w/ curing him of stomach cancer. Drunk as a tee, it can be ordered on line or can be easily harvested from birch trees. My dad used it. Good luck.