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How Can I Help When I Don’t Know What To Do?

Shay’s Story

You just got off the phone and are in shock that your friend has cancer. You are the best friend, spouse, parent, volunteer…everyone’s cheerleader. 

When cooking comfort food for a friend facing cancer, sometimes simple, bland and healthy is best.

How this could happen? The New Year is here and everyone is supposed to be happy and celebrating – not talking cancer! You feel helpless. Like any good person raised in the Midwest, your first thought is to comfort through cooking. This is something within your control, but what do you cook? How do you help when you don’t know what they can or can’t eat with their new cancer diagnosis or just finishing treatments?

Here are a few tips from a survivor to help you comfort your friend in need.

First, it’s important to have a conversation with your friend or the main caretaker so you understand what they and their family may or may not like, if they eat a certain diet or have any dietary restrictions like allergies. 

Also, be aware that chemotherapy and radiation can cause changes in taste, appetite, digestion and can deplete the immune system, so talk to your loved one about these issues before bringing them a meal.

Next, make sure you avoid any contamination, check expiration dates on products. Check labels; get everything fresh as a weakened immune system can be dangerous. Caution is key.  

Sometimes simple is best. Think bland foods like chicken, soups, rice, pasta; nothing spicy or raw. Wash and cook everything. Growing up in the Midwest, when someone got sick or there was a death in the family the way we helped comfort our neighbors was to bring them comfort food. Nothing is wrong with this, but when someone is going through cancer treatment, just make sure you are cooking healthy foods that include important nutrients. 

One recipe easy to make is a good chicken and rice casserole, or as we like to say “hotdish.” Include plenty of cooked vegetables. Keep the extra spice and heat out of recipes for now to avoid any digestive issues. Remember, if your friend hasn’t been feeling great from current treatments, bland is best. Rice or noodles, chicken or vegetable-based soups, poached or rotisserie chicken are all great choices. If they are vegetarian, cook or bake all veggies thoroughly and avoid bringing foods with a strong odor that may cause nausea.

Consider making dishes that they can freeze easily and take out later to heat up. Soups work well and keep all the nutrients for months to come. Your friend may have up to a year or more of treatments, so having extra on hand is always comforting. 

While studies on sugar intake and cancer are conflicting and controversial among the medical community, the verdict is still out. From this survivor, there is no reason why you cannot bake some sweet treats for your loved one. Just like choosing a treatment, let them choose what satisfies their sweet tooth whether cake and cookies or strawberries and bananas – or that big bowl of ice cream. If it brings a little bit of happiness to a grim day, who are we to tell them no? 

There are many satisfying and tasty recipes, resources and cookbooks available on the subject. Cancer Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz is loaded with an abundance of yummy and healthy recipes that will be just the key to comfort your friend from start of treatment well past survivorship and many new years to come. 

Remember, your friend is going through a lot emotionally and physically. If they choose not to (or cannot) eat something you bring, they will still appreciate your love and support. 

Shay Moraga is E-RYT500, triple negative breast cancer survivor. She teaches Yoga for Cancer Caretakers and Survivors locally at Eisenhower’s Lucy Curci Center and is founder of Shay’s Warriors- Life After Cancer. Contact Shay at shay@namstewithshay.com, or reach out on social media at Namaste with Shay or Shay’s Warriors.

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