• "Even though my appetite isn’t as big as it used to be, cooking has since become my therapy." (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
"You get nourishment from food and food can give you what you need to get you through anything."
By
Nikki Ebenezer*, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

13 Aug 2019 - 2:16 PM  UPDATED 14 Aug 2019 - 3:44 PM

I’m 36-years-old and, up until recently, I've never had any health issues. I’ve never had diabetes or high or low blood pressure. I’ve never had to visit the doctor a lot because I was always well. I can’t even remember the last time I took paracetamol. 

I’ve always just eaten whatever I want. I came to Australia from India when I was around seven and a half in 1991. So growing up, we predominately ate traditional Indian food: dosa, rice and chutneys. But like everyone else, I’ve always tried to be as healthy as possible.

Then earlier this year, I felt something: a small lump. I started getting headaches and shooting pains on my left side around my armpit, towards the side of my breast. But I just thought I had pulled a muscle.

When you’ve got cancer and are going through chemotherapy, the last thing you want to think about is food.

It was hard to think that the pains were anything related to breast cancer. I have no family history of breast cancer so I thought it was just an innocent lump.

But in early July, I had my breast cancer diagnosis confirmed. I have stage-two breast cancer. It’s classified as grade three: a very fast-moving cancer. I started chemotherapy at the end of July and am currently doing 'dose-dense' therapy - a high dose treatment where they hit you with chemotherapy every two weeks.

When you’ve got cancer and are going through chemotherapy, the last thing you want to think about is food.

This miracle berry may help chemotherapy patients regain their sense of taste
The miracle berry from West Africa gets its name because when eaten, it causes sour foods to taste sweet. It may also help chemotherapy patients, who have lost their sense of taste, to enjoy eating food once again.

You don’t generally have much of an appetite. And the truth is the act of eating can sometimes be draining, especially after the first few days of chemotherapy. But I still need to eat.

I see that eating the right foods while I am going through chemotherapy gives me an opportunity to feel stronger. You get nourishment from food and I really believe that food can give you what you need to get you through anything.

Vegetables and meat should be the most dominant features on my plate, and carbs the least dominant.

So I’ve seen an oncology dietitian who’s told me what I should and shouldn’t eat at this time. I still eat a lot of the traditional Indian food that mum cooks for dinner: dhal, vegetables, rice and plenty of meat and fish. But I’ve also learned that I should portion my food, steer clear of large-portioned meals and snacking regularly. Vegetables and meat should be the most dominant features on my plate, and carbs the least dominant, according to my oncology dietitian and I am to include a mixture of nuts and fruits as well. 

The nurse also recommended that I drink at least one glass of Sustagen each day to help with headaches and nausea. It’s also important that I regularly have calcium to maintain my bone density. I really dislike milk but I have it with the Sustagen because I know that is what will give me energy.

Overall, the impact that these dietary changes have had on my wellbeing has been phenomenal. Initially, my blood pressure was all over the place. By eating the right kind of foods, I was able to control the dizziness and nausea I experienced and even manage my strength.

Cooking is my therapy

Even though my appetite isn’t as big as it used to be, cooking has since become my therapy. As I’m cooking, my mind drifts into all sorts of areas. It gives me an opportunity to think and meditate. I really find it calming.

Cooking is also an activity that helps me to stay in tune with myself. There are a lot of things I can’t do and don’t have the energy to do, but rather than focusing on ‘what I can’t do’, I try to focus on what I can do. Cooking is one of those things.

Last week, I made Bolognese sauce from scratch. Then the next day, I used the sauce in a lasagne and I also baked a marble pound cake – as I’m not supposed to eat too many sugary treats, I only had a little serve.

This meal was to thank my parents for all the support they had given me and it was so great to see them both really enjoying it with me.

The fact is cancer really knocks your spirit and capacity to believe in yourself because you have to rely a lot on other people to do things for you. Yet cooking that meal made me feel empowered. 

The fact is cancer really knocks your spirit and capacity to believe in yourself because you have to rely a lot on other people to do things for you. Yet cooking that meal made me feel empowered. It took all my willpower to cook it. After lunch, I was so exhausted that I slept for about three hours, but I did it and it made me feel happy.

It wasn’t so much the process of cooking the meal that made me happy. It wasn’t the preparation of the ingredients or just the meditation I enjoyed while cooking. Being part of Indian culture, we are big believers in sharing food. So knowing that I made food to share with my family brought me joy. I was also very happy to give something back to them after all they have given me.

Cooking Maltese ravioli is how I’m facing my grief this Easter
I’ve decided to pay tribute to my late-mother this Easter. And I’m going to use traditional Maltese ravioli (ravjul) to do it.

Looking ahead, my treatment might be an eight-month or so journey. But there’s no real point in looking too far forward. Instead, I just think about today and try to find some kind of joy. And for me, food is really important to me through this journey.

I know it's what will give me strength and help me to survive and I already see the difference it’s making in my life.

* Note: Real name changed for privacy purposes.

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