"How my diet changed during chemotherapy"

Ingrid Copperman

Many people suffer with nausea during chemotherapy, which is particularly frustrating when you are trying to increase your energy level and keep weight on. Ingrid Copperman shares the foods that she turns to during these times...

"Before I embarked on my chemo journey, I was determined to eat a healthy diet abundant in foods such as turmeric, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and berries.  

In reality, I felt so grim with incessant nausea that I didn’t have the enthusiasm to eat anything. However, I found if I forced myself to eat, despite not really feeling like it, I felt miles better.

I discovered certain foods, which were easy to prepare, easy to eat and, most importantly, easy to digest. These became my go-to meals and snacks during those five months of once-a-week chemotherapy session.

Chicken soup

This isn’t dubbed ‘Jewish penicillin’ for nothing! It’s a hot clear broth – effortless to eat, whether with a spoon from a bowl, drunk from a mug or even sipped through a straw. My mother-in-law produced regular supplies, which I kept in the freezer, ready to defrost at a moment’s notice. I’ve suggested to her that she starts a business delivering the magic liquid to chemo wards!  You don’t have to be Jewish to make it and many celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have easy-to-follow recipes.

Cake

From time to time, my chemo-ravaged body craved certain food – none more so than carrot cake. I sampled as many carrot cakes as possible. The best were homemade versions in independent coffee shops – and my friend Jeanette’s is legendary – but when push came to shove, Waitrose’s sufficed.  

I also developed a love of banana loaf (with or without walnuts), lemon drizzle, lime and courgette, and beetroot and chocolate cake. During my cake travels I even discovered avocado cake! What all these cakes have in common is that they are made with fruit and/or vegetables, so in my mind they were ‘healthy’ cakes!

Satisfying and easy to eat, I would break off bitesize pieces and feed myself with my fingers. It’s a perfect combination of fat and sugar to keep your energy levels and weight up, both of which useful during chemo.

Chemotherapy and diet

Spices

Chemo stole my sense of taste, so I started cooking more highly-spiced dishes, enhancing even the most simple bolognese sauce with garlic, fresh chilli and turmeric. I had to use rather a lot before the faintest flavour came through in the cooking, which normally meant that the dish blew the heads off everyone else eating the meal! Oops…

Tray bake

This was one of the easiest, most delicious and nutritious dishes that I invented during chemo and involved a combination of vegetables (I turned to organic after my cancer diagnosis) – red onions, red and green peppers, courgettes, carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, butternut squash, potatoes, aubergine, cherry tomatoes, celery, fennel.

I cut these into 2-3cm chunks, threw them into a roasting tin, doused them with organic coconut oil, and sprinkled it with fresh, chopped red or green chilli, whole garlic cloves, turmeric before roasting in the oven for about half an hour.

I then added either salmon fillets, chicken thighs or quarters, pork fillet medallions or lamb leg steaks (all organic) and roasted for a further 15-20 mins. Bags of ready-prepared veg from the supermarket were great when I didn’t have the energy to prep.

Chemotherapy and diet

Fish and Chips

My chemo sessions were on Monday, so Tuesday would be write off but by Wednesday evening, I would start feeling a bit better. Wednesday became fish and chip night – my partner would text that he was leaving the office, I would reply with the fish and chip emojis and he would return with the coveted meal.  My lack of taste meant that I would douse the food with lashings of malt vinegar and sea salt but, even without taste, the texture of the food hit the spot!"

Everyone's experience of chemotherapy is different. If you want to speak to someone about their experience, please email Ross@ovarian.org.uk who can put you in touch with one of our Voices.