Friday, July 2, 2010

The Power of Yum!

I was introduced to her in the first days after I was diagnosed because Alana Anyse who had worked at Fox as a freelance producer had written to me about her own chemo nightmare - she too had been diagnosed shortly after giving birth but had kept her ordeal quiet at Fox because she was freelancing and just because. (I have met so many women/mothers who have made similar choices and to them my hat is off because they did it all without the layer upon layer of support that we had from friends and colleagues and more friends and family. I’ve described the last year to friends as a sort of “This is Your Life” with connections from childhood to the present and every friend I’ve ever known stepping forward and reappearing and helping in some extraordinary way both big and small. The circles grew so large that it became overwhelming at times because we knew there was no way to ever properly thank or give back to all of those who stepped in to help us in those dark days. The only way to move forward I decided in short order was to “pay it forward.”

So I have tried to spread the word about Rebecca Katz’s cookbooks to any cancer patient or their family member whom I came across in hospital waiting rooms, in book stores, through e-mails from friends of the newly diagnosed. I had to shout it from the rooftops. Much as Alana had helped me more than she will ever know. For her, she says she couldn’t have gotten through chemo without Rebecca’s “Miracle Broth” from “One Bite at a Time,” Katz’s book specifically for chemo patients and their friends and family. The most important thing for a chemo patient is not to get undernourished. You need protein, protein, protein so that you don’t lose muscle mass and get weak so that you can ingest the poisons that will save your life. But you also need phytochemicals - the nutrients found in green veggies that literally starve the tumors and make sure that they aren’t able to create the network of blood vessels that allows the tumor to be fed. Starve them and you don’t have to worry about the tumor growing or cells spreading. This is called “anti-angiogenesis.” Say it ten times really fast. There is even a non-profit foundation named for it that is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where scientists look at the cancer fighting properties of food and what makes green tea, for instance, such a powerful cancer-fighting tool. So starving the tumors is the name of the game, even after treatment. But starve yourself and your body can’t cope with the strong drugs you need to get the cancer back in check. So the cancer patient must eat.

Enter San Francisco gourmet chef Rebecca Katz. She came up with a Culinary Pharmacy originally to help her own Dad who had been diagnosed with throat cancer. She had studied at the National Gourmet School of Culinary Healing in NY and then was out working at Deepak Chopra’s School for Wellbeing when she got the call that her Dad was sick. She says that she knew she could not feed him what she calls your usual “hippy gruel”: potions of grains and whole foods that didn’t taste good. I followed her recipes through my treatment and felt so empowered as I wandered the aisles of Whole Foods. I started gravitating to organic Medjool dates (full of anti-oxidants) to put in my steel cut oatmeal along with walnuts, whose anti-inflammatory qualities keep cancer at bay. She taught me that lemon added to all of the water that I was drinking to flush the chemo drugs from my system actually cut through the chemical wasteland that was my tongue and stimulated my tastebuds which are the first thing to go along with a chemo patient’s appetite. So I added lemon to everything.

She came to lunch at our Washington DC home on a Friday. (She was in town for a conference on the healing nature of food along with nutrition gurus from Johns Hopkins who I have since befriended.) I invited my mom and friend Andrea Wilson to join us. It was a bit last minute. I didn’t leave enough time between my Pilates lesson that ended at 12 and a quick trip to the grocery store to find the freshest ingredients. I was going to cook for Rebecca Katz - the hutzpah! And really I don’t cook. I prepare. I visualize. I chop and I eat really fresh things. What could I possibly throw together. Well, fortunately the lovely Christine Merkle (the personal chef that my friends had continued to spoil me with) had delivered some thinly sliced pork tenderloin (herb crusted) and ratatouille. I then concocted a beet salad. The beets were boiled and then the greens were cooked with garlic and a little olive oil (that’s the only oil I use anymore). And then I sprinkled some chopped walnuts and some organic goat cheese (crumbled) on top and a little Marakan Seasoned Rice Vinegar. Delice! I must say I was very proud of the plate which was artfully presented on some platters that had been made for me by Mallory Sarobin in Jerusalem. We had a little lentil salad and a green salad with avocados (Andrea says if there is one thing I make really well it is green salads - without fail - as long as I have a good cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and my rice vinegar.) The presentation was artful. And Rebecca’s “Power of Yum,” that’s the best way to describe her philosophy was at work and voila! you wouldn’t even know you were eating to ward off the deadly beast. It was perfect.

In the process I learned a few more tricks from Rebecca. For one, add fresh mint to everything. It has a powerful anti-cancer punch. All you need is about a tablespoon a day - put it in tea, chop it into your salad, chop it into your rice or garnish on top of your organic freerange chicken. I can walk out the back of my kitchen and it is growing about as fast as our bamboo and grab a few sprigs en route to the garage. I eat it all the time - it helps you digest - the Moroccans certainly know that. Then there is turmeric. Very, very powerful in the anti-angiogenesis and anti-inflammatory department. Rebecca suggested in addition to eating Indian dishes with turmeric which in essence turns off the switch that allows cancer cells to multiply. If you add black pepper to the turmeric it multiplies its effect, she says. So make your salad dressing with a 1/4 tsp of tumeric, some black pepper (ground), lemon juice and olive oil and voila! Cancer beware. There’s a new sheriff in town.

Green tea - we all should drink as much as possible, but Rebecca says the anti-angiogenesis folks say mix your types of green tea into one brew and get a magnified effect. The blending makes the ingredients more powerful. Her philosophy is not to take away anything from your diet but add the ingredients to your arsenal so that the cancer starves: shred some carrot, chop a cooked beet, add some mint and add some olive oil and salt and pepper and before you know it you are eating a “rainbow.” The Power of Yum! I think I will go make a pot of green tea.

But, be careful, dear Triple Negative readers - you, like me, need a very low saturated fat diet. And I just learned from Johns Hopkins’ Linda McIntyre that a teaspoon of olive oil has 5 g of fat. A tablespoon 15 g. And we Triple Negative patients should only have 33 g of fat a day - even of the good fats in, say, avocados and nuts. Don’t eat more than 20 almonds and walnuts a day or you may be undermining your attempt at low-fat as a means of keeping Triple Negative recurrence at bay. I was eating what Linda told me was an excellent Mediterranean diet that would have been perfect for my estrogen positive sisters. So now I measure my olive oil - very tough because I was eating it on all of my veggies with reckless abandon. Moderation, moderation, moderation. And breathe....