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'Cooking Through Cancer'

While it's still January, National Soup Month, here's a gentle idea for lunch from the book, "Cooking Through Cancer," from the Lahey Clinic Sophia Gordon Cancer Center in Massachusetts.

It was a gift from an old friend and former colleague in Washington who thought I might find it useful, and he was right.

"Just as it changes your physical condition and alters your mental outlook, cancer and its treatments will transform how you eat. Having a meal takes on new meaning and can present a new set of challenges," write the editors of the book, which was published last year.

Keith Stuart, M.D., head of oncology at the renowned Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts, and Corrine Zarwan, M.D., and the team at the Sophia Gordon Center, understand the difficulty their patients often have in determining what food they want to eat and what food will help with particular symptoms.

Cancer can diminish the enjoyment of good food. It can alter the taste of food. Treatments of chemotherapy or hormones or radiation create such an alien health routine that people can feel they are no longer in charge of their own medical destiny, the authors write.

Stuart says food can seem unimportant or undesirable during treatment, but it remains necessary.

It won't cure the cancer or radically change its course but it can make treatments easier to take, the authors say.

"Cancer and its treatment can cause loss of appetite, inability to taste, feel, or sometimes even swallow your old favorite foods. It is important to appreciate these changes and acknowledge them by finding new favorites in taste or texture that are more appealing as your treatment progresses. Eating
becomes part of your health maintenance: for instance, this book has examples of what to eat specifically for problems such as dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, oral ulcers, weight loss or excessive gain. Our recipes span a range of nutritious basics, comfort foods, family meals and retooled gourmet dishes."

There are also meals for celebration -- "because as bleak as this process can sometimes be, there will always be moments to celebrate -- times when something goes right, the disease has let up a bit or even lost ground, the symptoms abate, you "graduate" and finish therapy, and your life becomes your
own again. This book is for those times of hope and happiness."

The book is divided into recipe groupings that address problems for the patients --nausea, weight gain or loss, constipation, diarrhea and sore mouth.

And there are tempting celebratory suggestions like Lobster Pot Pie, Chocolate Cupcakes and grownup drinks such as Green with Envy Daiquiris and LiMango Frappes.

"The Lahey Clinic Guide to Cooking Through Cancer" ($24.95; The Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vt.)

Tuscan Bean Soup


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound escarole, chopped
Salt and pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


1 Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the escarole and a pinch of salt and cook until the escarole is wilted, about 2 minutes.

2. Add the broth and beans, cover, and simmer until the beans are heated through, about 15 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve, drizzling each portion with 1 teaspoon of the extra virgin olive oil.

I'd serve with crusty bread and/or a green salad.

(For vegetarian soup, simply replace the chicken broth with low-sodium vegetable broth.)

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