Last year, I hit a pretty big pothole in the road – the metaphorical road, although I did get an actual nail in my tire, unrelated – and underwent six infusions of chemotherapy for breast cancer. The only thing that is absolute about chemotherapy is that everyone going through chemotherapy will experience different side effects. I even experienced different side effects each of the six cycles. I never was nauseated, I never threw up… but my regular routine was definitely in shambles.
I raaaaarely cooked. The ability to think of what sounded good, then gather the ingredients, prepare them, eat them, clean up… no way, no how. I ate a lot of prepared foods, and tried to just get calories in. I had wonderful – I repeat WONDERFUL – friends who made sure I had all the options I needed. A lot of food went to waste, and I picked up some new favorites too. Sometimes, I didn’t feel like eating. It was crazy, I’ve never felt this way before. I ALWAYS felt like eating before, and had absolutely no judge of portion size. I had to remind myself to eat every few hours, and I had to find non-objectionable calories to do so.
As I mentioned in my last post, I ate a lot of fries and chocolate. Not together. But both often. I did manage to find some other foods as well. This list does not include any recipes, it’s more a review of the things that I remember as always tasting good or sounding appealing. Most of the photos are from my instagram account, and are noted if they are from elsewhere. Turns out I had a lot to say about these foods, so I have broken this entry into two posts.
So these are the Things that Tasted Good During Chemotherapy… and other “Cancer Foods” that will always remind me of what I was eating in 2019. Not in a bad way, promise. Maybe this list will help you or a friend out, too – it’s HARD to make decisions in treatment. I had to save that energy for BIG decisions – like which chemo course to take, and what type of reconstruction to have – there was no room left for things like “snacks.” It is even harder to think of things you don’t know, like what may taste good if it’s not in your routine.
If you have any additions, please leave them in the comments!
1. Let’s start with the obvious: FRIES.
There are quite a few photos of fries on my instagram account from this summer (no objections from my therapy doggo, Tazewell). I don’t think there was a time that I turned down fries. Fries from Five Guys, fries that came with gyros, fries that my mom made from frozen, fries from my work cafeteria, fries on the side of pretty much anything. I always love fries, but for health reasons try to only have them occasionally – but not 2019. You can pretty much always have fries on the side of anything you order, I learned. Potatoes are easy on your stomach, and while fried food is not, this was often my compromise.
2. Oh yes, CHICKEN SOUP. It’s a stereotype for a reason.
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If ever there was a night for homemade chicken soup and my sorority t-shirt quilt… 1/21/19 it is! 💨brrrr…💨 . . . #chickennoodlesoup #pibetaphi #nupibetaphi #northwesternuniversity #eeeeeats #comfortfood #shutdownsnacking #ahungrydc #achillydc @pibetaphinu @pibetaphihq #piphi
This photo is from before the storm, but I love it because it also reminds me of my very strong support system! (And I feel vindicated for having kept all the t-shirts for 20 years.)
Here’s the thing. I probably ate it differently during chemo than most people eat soup. I would separate out the broth, and keep that in a thermos (hot). I knew there was a ton of protein in it, and that I wouldn’t have to chew it (some days, chewing seems like a huge expenditure of energy). I carried it around in my zojirushi that kept it warm (hot!) all day. At work, it would stay hot until the end of the work day.
Chemotherapy goes in cycles, and during certain parts of the cycles – different for everyone – there may be stomach and intestinal issues. Chicken broth, noodles, and plain chicken are recommended during these times, so I would start with the broth and then add in noodles, and force a few bites of chicken when I knew I should.
I was reminded about chicken soup (I am telling you – cancer pushed EVERYTHING out of my brain, I had so many new things to learn) by my friend TK who brought me soup made from my recipe, when I was diagnosed. It was sooooo warm and comforting, and I started making a batch every chemo cycle. It was nice to be in the kitchen and have a routine, and I did actually need the soup.
TK also gave me one of my own delicious grEATings cards when she brought the soup. I loooooved it! This was actually why I created this card – to be given to someone sick, with a batch of the soup or just on its own – and it tooootally made me smile. I also have the same design with a message on the inside.
I loved it so much, that I am making a special deal on 10-packs of this design, at wholesale pricing. Here is the link for the box of 10 blank inside, and here is the link for the box of 10 with “Feel better souper soon” inside.
3. Spiced meats, namely GYROS and KOSHER SALAMI.
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There is no denying that gyros and kosher salami are both comfort foods for me. However, during chemo, taste can be dulled. I found that meats with strong spices (not “spicy,” just strong flavors) were appealing.
And gyros usually comes with, you know, fries.
4. PEPPERIDGE FARM WHITE BREAD and jam
This, of course, is avocado pepperidge farm toast; I don’t have a photo of the jam. With a side of morning meds. Looks like 3 Advil, a mega-dose of Vitamin D, and 2 Dexamethasone, so this was right after an infusion, if I was still on steroids, and also on Advil to prevent bone pain from Neulasta.
I got so used to eating whole grain everything that white bread became a treat and felt unhealthy… until chemo, when I got to eat whateverrrrr I wanted. I mean, I act like this was fancy, but really it was just something to get calories in so I could have a base in my stomach for those meds and to start my day. My friend NB brought me a peach jam (and a plant that is still kickin’ it) when she came for a visit, and I used the jam for a little sugar boost with my square white bread throughout chemo.
I don’t keep snacks around my apartment, and that includes granola bars and meal replacement bars and the like. I would just snack on them until they were gone – in addition to meals. So when my (many, incredible) friends asked me what they could do for me, one of my asks was a delivery of “snacks” every week. whatever that meant to them.
And it was so fun to receive them! And eat them. Everyone was so generous, and receiving from different people gave me a HUGE variety. I kept a snack bucket (sometimes two – one savory, one sweet) on my kitchen table, and would pore through it when I needed a nibble. It was helpful to have for when I had visitors as well, or a few of us were leaving my apartment to go to an early appointment and all needed snacks for the day. Everything got eaten. Huh. I almost forgot about the snack bucket, which lived on my table for the better part of six months and was the subject of endless conversation.
But anyway. My friend LS sent me a box of assorted Probars for her snack assignment. I had not heard of them – they are meal replacements, and come in every flavor from fruity to sweet. She said she takes them with her when she travels to remote foreign locations for work and doesn’t know where the next meal will come from. They are definitely heftier than a Clif or Lara bar – and they were perfect for when I just did NOT feel like eating but knew I needed a meal. I would snack on one over the course of a few hours at work, and at almost 400 calories and up to 20 grams of fat – I knew it was enough to eat for a meal. I liked the sweet flavors the best – peanut butter, chocolate, and the like. Having the variety pack was great; again, on chemo, it’s really hard to know what is going to sound good, and the novelty of a new flavor can sometimes help get you through.
I snapped the above photo during my “lunch” one day at work, as I nibbled my way through the Probar. I sent it to LS, as well as JC and PD, who, respectively, were responsible for the green & white fusion tea (delicious), and the Becky’s mug. People don’t laugh at this as much as they should at work :-/
That’s it for the first installment of Things that Tasted Good During Chemotherapy… and other “Cancer Foods” – stay tuned for Part 2!