Today I’m thrilled that Kathy Gori is sharing her story with us. Kathy is a breast cancer survivor who has a great perspective on eating well during cancer therapy and beyond.
Kathy, photo by Alan Berger
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Tell us a little about your history with cancer.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, while in my 30′s. I found the lump while doing a monthly self exam. I had gotten a clean mammogram just 3 months before as part of a full physical well baby program (we were trying to get pregnant) . The tumor was small but practically on the chest wall. My doctor was surprised I was even able to find it. Since I was a vegetarian, a runner, and did not smoke or drink, and given my age, no one thought the lump could possibly be malignant. But I had a biopsy and it was.
The cancer was non-hormonal dependent which is common in younger women and so considered aggressive. I had a mastectomy, and chemotherapy (at the time they did not do radiation if one had a mastectomy, though now they do). The cellular matter in my tumor was aneuploid and I was given a poor prognosis.
What type of changes did you notice with your appetite for food or your tastes for food during your treatment? How did you learn to overcome these changes?
When I was first diagnosed, eating was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t have much of an appetite, mainly because I was so scared. I was doing conventional western medicine and decided to augment my treatment by following a strict macrobiotic diet recommended for breast cancer patients.
I like Japanese food but the very strict diet was boring the pants off me. Since I was not allowed eggplant, potatoes, or tomatoes (in macrobiotic terms they were considered deadly nightshades and so a big no no), which were some of my favorite foods, and since the diet was so restricted, I wasn’t eating much. I started losing a lot of weight fast. This was not good. There was talk of putting in a port to get more nutrition into me. My doctors were concerned since I was skinny to begin with and I needed to keep up my strength. My internist suggested instead of macrobiotics I might try a more Ayurvedic diet (Indian food) where I could eat the foods I liked. My sister in law is an Indologist/archeologist (expert on 3rd century BC Indian art) and has lived and worked in India. She’s also a great Indian cook and she got me started with cooking my own Indian food. I quickly began preparing my own organic healthy Indian vegetarian dishes. My appetite was stimulated and I happily ate my way through treatment.
Of course there were chemo days when I was nauseous and unable to cook and so my husband would take me out to a neighborhood vegetarian/vegan restaurant if I felt like it (sometimes going out was good for me) or he’d bring food back for me. I also smoked marijuana — which I’d never done before (my oncologist and internist both recommended it) — to stimulate appetite. It worked.
Do you have any tips for enjoying food despite cancer for other people going through a similar situation?
People told me when starting chemo to suck on hard candy so that I wouldn’t taste the medicine. I bought tons of butterscotch hard candies to the hospital with me. The result was, 21 years later I now hate butterscotch. It ruined butterscotch for me, so I always tell people if you’re bringing something to chemo to take the taste away, bring something you’re not nuts about as you may never want to eat it again after this is all over. Also I always say eat what you feel like eating..but eat! For my first round of chemo I had an insane craving for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with big glasses of pink lemonade. Alan made all of these for me non-stop. I couldn’t get enough. Was it organic? Hell no. Was it healthy? What do you think? But I wanted it, I could and would eat it..so I did. It made me happy!
In short my advice is to eat what makes you happy. I do a lot of cooking for friends having cancer treatment and I always ask them first, what do you want to eat? What do you feel like eating? If there was ever a time to eat dessert first this it it.
Do you have any tips for caregivers of cancer patients going through the cancer experience?
To patients and caregivers I always say: be patient. This isn’t easy for anyone. I found that it was good sometimes to do things for my husband while I was having treatment so that the caring wasn’t all going one way. It also made me feel better and much more “normal” to do the things I always did.
It’s always important to remember that there’s life after this illness and when it’s over you want those who helped you to still be speaking to you.
Do you have a recipe to share you were fond of during or after your treatment?
One of my favorite treatment, post-treatment, and right-up-to-now dishes is Indian style spinach with corn. I make this at home all the time. It’s nourishing, tasty, and on the menu when I do cooking for other cancer patients. It’s easy to eat and everyone seems to like it.
photo by Alan Berger
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Kathy Gori has been cooking Indian food for 20 years. A screenwriter by trade, she works at home, so trading a hot keyboard for a hot stove was just a matter of a few steps. Her obsession with Indian cooking began when her sister-in-law, Elizabeth, an Indologist who’d lived and worked in India, introduced her to the intricacies of the Indian kitchen. Thousands of hours and hundreds of dishes later, Kathy makes her own chutneys, grinds her own spices and enjoys exploring the various cuisines of the sub-continent. She has cooked for some of the Dalai Lama’s monks, the Director of the Delhi Museum and President Clinton’s California campaign staff. She is always learning and loves to share her knowledge and love of Indian cooking with others.
In addition to her writing and cooking, she was the voice of Rosemary the Telephone Operator in the series Hong Kong Phooey. She has voiced many films and commercials, winning a Clio Award, and she ever “dated” Don Draper. Kathy and her husband/writing partner, Alan Berger, live with their Siberian Husky, Patsy, in Sonoma, and most recently worked on the screenplay for Chaos Theory starring Ryan Reynolds.