As some of you may know, I started Jeanette’s Healthy Living as a place to record and share foods I was cooking for friends with cancer as well as meals I was preparing for my family. In fact, the Anticancer Fireworks Black Bean Salsa featured at the top of this post was something I made at the beginning of this journey. Over time, the recipes on my blog have evolved to reflect changes in my family’s lifestyle. As my father-in-law’s Parkinson’s disease progressed, I had to learn how to cook nutrient dense soft foods for him. And, when my youngest son was diagnosed with numerous food allergies last year, I had to get up to speed on cooking allergy-free foods.
Recently, I have been trying to figure out how I can share my experiences so that others can learn to cook healthy foods for loved ones with cancer, food allergies, or other illnesses that affect what they can eat. I believe in the concept of food as medicine – that by eating a diet rich in whole foods, we can build up our immune system to help fight cancer and other illnesses. Although there are many factors that we cannot control, food is one we can.
I’ve cooked for friends with breast cancer, thyroid cancer, stomach cancer and colon cancer. And when I say friends, I say that in a different light than what many people might think. You see, I really didn’t know any of these women very well when I first started cooking for them. In fact, several of them even refused to let me cook for them in the beginning. They didn’t understand why someone like me, who didn’t even know them, wanted to cook for them. But, I persisted and as I started cooking for them more and more, and developed a comfortable relationship with these women, they slowly let me into their lives, and we developed friendships on a different level. I have to say that these experiences have been some of the most fulfilling and rewarding in my life. Cooking for someone is probably one of the most intimate things you can do. There is something to be said about the care and love that goes into preparing food, whether it’s for your family, friend or neighbor.
Some skeptics might say that I am not qualified to teach others how to cook for cancer patients, kids with allergies, or people with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) since I have neither a degree in the medical field, nor a culinary degree. In fact, I was told just that this past week when I asked a third party (not a friend) what they thought of the idea of me teaching cooking classes to cancer patients and their caregivers. She questioned my qualifications to teach others. After all, who was I – just a home cook who has cooked for people with cancer, just a mom who has cooked for her child with food allergies, just a daughter-in-law who cooked for her father-in-law who had Parkinson’s disease for eight years. Needless to say, I was extremely discouraged. It really frustrated me to think that I had this passion for cooking for people with cancer, but that I didn’t have the “credentials” to teach others what I had learned. It’s amazing how dreams can be shattered just by one comment.
So, I’ve been giving a lot of thought about whether or not I can do something with this passion of mine – teaching others what I’ve learned through my life experiences. I’ve thought about what qualifies someone to teach people to cook for cancer patients. Does a nutrition or dietetics degree necessarily mean you know how to cook for cancer patients? No. Does a culinary degree mean you know how to cook for cancer patients? No. Does practical experience cooking for cancer patients mean you know how to cook for cancer patients? I would argue YES! Now, I could go back and get a nutrition degree and/or a culinary degree, but would that really help me learn better how to cook for cancer patients? Maybe, or maybe not. And honestly, right now with three kids still at home, I would rather spend my limited free time actually cooking for cancer patients, than getting another degree just to have the credential on my resume. Not to compare myself to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg, but they seem to have done just fine without a degree.
I know there are people out there with a nutrition or dietician degree that might cringe at the thought of someone like me teaching others to cook for cancer patients, but I would argue that my practical “on-the-job” training has been invaluable in teaching me how to cook for cancer patients. I have learned what foods cancer patients can tolerate when they have mouth sores, or trouble chewing or swallowing, and how to modify recipes when their taste buds change as a result of chemotherapy. Of course, I might consult with an oncology nutritionist or dietician, and I would love to team up with one, but I believe my actual experience cooking for cancer patients is a skill that can only be learned by doing.
I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Rebecca Katz a few days after I was beat up over the head by the person who said I had no credentials to teach others to cook for cancer patients, for kids with food allergies, or for people with dysphagia (the condition of having trouble swallowing which my father-in-law had). Rebecca Katz is a nationally-recognized expert on the role of food in supporting health during cancer treatment, and the author of my favorite cancer cookbook, The Cancer-Fighting Cookbook. All I can say is that Rebecca Katz is as sweet and inspiring as her cookbooks (she is also the author of One Bite At A Time). I have stickies on so many recipes in her cookbook that I have made for my friends with cancer, all of which have received rave reviews. When I cook for friends with cancer, I always try to practice Rebecca Katz’s “power of yum” so foods I prepare not only taste good, but are visually appealing.
Just this past weekend, I met a woman with cancer, and I reached out to cook for her, and she graciously accepted my offer. It is moments like these that reaffirm what I am trying to do. Although I have no idea what path my life will lead to, I do know that I have a passion for cooking, not just for my family, but for people who have cancer. Food is medicine. I truly believe that.
I will continue to share recipes that I make for my family on Jeanette’s Healthy Living, but I will also be returning to my roots of how I began this journey by interspersing recipes featuring anticancer foods to help me continue the learning process and to share what I learn with all of you. This learning process might not provide me with a formal degree, but I believe this on-the-job training will be more valuable and practical than any classroom can provide. Thank you Rebecca Katz for your inspiration and for reminding me not to let anyone tell me that I can’t do what I’m passionate about.
Thanks also to my boys (I love you guys!) who, after I shared what Rebecca said to me, played this clip from the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, where Will Smith’s character tells his 5-year old son,
“Don’t let somebody tell you you can’t do something…you got a dream, you got to protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.”
Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. says
oh this is right up my alley! Love this and I hope you had a good weekend!
I think to co cook for a school – they certainly like qualifications. I know so many people who are extremely knowledgeable due to their passions and a blog is the perfect outlet. You can still reach out and touch many people.
Yes, Claudia, I do think I can reach a lot of people through my blog, and for that I am grateful. I may decide at some point to go back to school, but right now, I’m focusing on learning on the job, and sharing that with all of you.
well obviously you are doing a great job teaching through your blog-I learn something everytime I leaver here.
Thanks Naomi, I appreciate your feedback. My hope is to share what I learn along the way.
Magic of Spice says
Fantastic post! I agree with your boys…passion is the most important thing! And love the salsa too 🙂
Yes, my boys are right and I thank them for reminding me.
Erin @ Texanerin Baking says
You are absolutely amazing to cook for people you don’t know.
I would say don’t let that one comment discourage you, but I know that me saying that wouldn’t help. From what you’ve written, you sound like you’ve already done an amazing job. And I agree with you that practical experience is way more important than having a piece of paper. That’s not true with all things, but for this? You keep doing what you’re doing and good luck with whatever you decide on. 🙂
Thanks for your encouragement Erin. I do think that with the support from people who have the medical know-how that I can do one day fulfill my dream of helping others to learn to cook for cancer patients. Meanwhile, I am back in the kitchen doing my thing, just continuing the learning process and reading books from the experts.
juniakk @ mis pensamientos says
mmm i totally agree – practical experience speaks volumes over any degree. i can’t wait to see what you will be sharing with us!
Thanks Junia, I do believe on the job training is the best way to learn in certain circumstances. With the support of others who are professionally trained, I think I can accomplish what I want – to help others learn to cook for people with cancer.
Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking says
Sounds like you have a lot of experience cooking for all types of ailments. There’s no better gift you can offer to family and friends than a safely prepared homecooked meal. Thank you for this educational post, Jeanette!
This is a very touching post, Jeanette. I agree with you, practical experience sure has a lot of weight and so what if you don’t have professional degrees to back you up. You are absolutely right in comparing your situation with Bill Gates etc because it’s the same everywhere. If you have a certain talent or skill that benefits someone, a piece of paper shouldn’t stand in the way. I’d say don’t give up hope because some day, a door will open even if a bunch of others close theirs on you. They don’t know what they’re missing. You’re truly an inspiring person in all that you do, Jeanette and you’re blessed with two wonderful boys!
Rules and regulations often get in the way don’t they? I love reading about the foods you cook and definitely think that food is medicine. I am diabetic and find that dietitians just don’t get it. I learn more from blogs and reading books. I am reading a wonderful book at the moment called “freedom from disease” – most of us are unhealthy on a basic level. You are doing a wonderful thing – don’t listen to people that say you can’t do it.
Jeanette, I am so happy that you are going to continue this helpful and passionate journey to help others. It is very important to have someone out there like you to provide nourishing and tasty recipes to people with cancer ~ I know this can be a very difficult thing to do on so many levels. Congrats on going back to your roots 🙂
Alyssa (Everyday Maven) says
You know what Jeannette, there are always going to be negative naysayers and those people who find a reason not to do something or a problem with it. Keep following your gut and listening to that voice that is telling you are doing the right thing. You won’t go wrong!!
Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen says
You have such a big heart, I love what you are doing for people.
What an amazing reflection post. You are truly doing what you love and giving your boys a wonderful example to follow. What a gift!!! Reading your posts is a big treat for me. I love your recipes and wish I had time to make more of them. Thanks for nourishing all of us through your refreshingly honest blog.
Honestly, in the medical profession, we learn very little about nutrition, so even if you DO have an MD, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you know more about it than anyone else. I really think that so long as you’re clear that you don’t have a medical or nutrition degree and that your background is based on experience and research, then you’re in the clear. Love that you’re thinking of doing this. personally, I think you should forge ahead.
also, I know there’s a natural cooking school here in NYC…they might offer some classes that you’d want to sign up for related to cooking for cancer patients, not necessarily as a full time student, but on a class-by-class basis!
Rajka @ExpatDoctorMom says
I have to agree with you about the “on the job training”. I think many times the trouble shooting it takes to perfect your skills in this case a recipe is what makes you the “expert”. In the past, there was so emphasis on go to college get a degree to make you reputable in your field. Not any longer as is witness by the many entrepreneurs seen online.
Shame on that person. Just a typical naysayer! Sadly these naysayers don’t realize the impact that they can have. I am glad you rallied and are ignoring these comments! Good for your boys!
You are such an inspiration, Jeanette! I love your food philosophy, and I completely agree that food is medicine and has the power to either heal or destroy. Thank you for sharing not only your recipes with us, but your passion, heart and soul. I hope all your dreams are realized. XO, Faith
Nicole nadeau says
Thanks so much for your blog. just started following and like it. While I do not agree with the Nay sayer, I do think it is important to think about how you would present your credentials. I have a son with an enlarged tongue who has had surgery. it is important for me to go to people with advanced training for some things and people who know a lot from experience for other. I think they are both valuable. I personally would go to you based on your credentials of experience. Maybe gather some testimonials from those you have served so that when you are ready to launch, you have them. Ask them to write what they would tell someone considering using your services. So glad you are choosing to follow your passion.
Thanks for your feedback and suggestions Nicole. I agree that medical training is necessary in many circumstances, and that experience can help in implementing what medical professionals tell patients to do at home.
Don’t get discouraged with whatever you are passionate about. One way or another, there will always be lives that you’ll touch, pains that you’ll soothe and souls that you’ll heal. If cooking is your way to share love, then let’s all enjoy your dishes. You have a great heart! Keep posting!
France @ Beyond The Peel says
Passion will carry you through every obstacle. I admire what you’re doing.
Thanks France – passion does go a very long way. It’s what really gets me going.
EA-The Spicy RD says
As a dietitian, I wholly support what you are doing Jeanette (no cringing here!). You have so many wonderfully healthy and delicious recipes on your blog, and from everything I’ve read here, your nutrition knowledge is spot on. I love what you’re doing here. Keep up the great work!
Thanks EA – that means a lot coming from you as a RD. I do want to learn more about the nutrition side of food and hope to take some courses that are more specific to cancer and nutrition. If you have any suggestions, would love your input.
Love your blog! I share your believe that food is medicine! I truly admire your passion and will be visiting your blog often!
Thanks Gina – so glad to find someone else with the same belief that food is medicine.
the people who do accept your help (and thrive from it!) hopefully far outweigh the skeptics. I’m sorry you have those discouragements, but the fact that you continue in spite of them is what is important! I love this post, I am grateful for you as a resource, and for helping so many.
Jill~a SaucyCook says
Oh Jeanette I think your video clip says it all. What we learn in school mostly is how to learn. I was a marketing major back at the time when we were still saying that no one would pay for television! Most of what I learned in school was obsolete for most of my career. But I did learn how to research and to question and then life taught me to listen to my gut. You have obviously proved your salt and you know in your heart that cooking is about sharing love and community. Along with the healthy nutrients you are providing for your “friends” you are also providing compassion, love and laughter-the best prescriptions money can;t buy for curing cancer.
Clancy Harrison (MS, RD, LDN) says
I have not read all of your above comments but it looks like you are receiving a lot of support. I have to make a comment on the credential thing and this is coming from someone with credentials. I do not want to down play my profession but there are MANY people out there with credentials that give horrible advice. In fact some people, let their credentials get in the way of continuing education and the ability to admit when they are wrong or right. However, there are also MANY great educators with credentials.
I wish you the best in your passion and endeavor!
Thanks Kristina, Jill and Clancy for your comments. I am following my passion and know I have much to learn still. I am planning on taking some courses on nutrition and cancer specifically to help close the gap. I agree with you all – just because you have a credential doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to put it to action. That is the case in any field, not just nutrition. My hope is to earn more on the nutrition side (by taking courses and talking to nutritionists/dieticians who specialize in oncology) while continuing to cook for people with cancer.
I discovered your site because of SRC. After browsing through it and…. well… salivating, I came across this post and realized you are one of a kind! I’m a Mediterranean diet type person (except no meat for me) and all of your recipes have so many beautiful colors, which is what I look for, besides taste. Reading the quote at the end of this, gave me the chills and inspired me, as I’m sure it did you. You keep doing what you’re doing, lady, because you are fabulous at it!!!!! I am so excited to make some of your recipes!!! Especially the Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf! Oh my!!!!! Thank you so much for what you do!
Brooke – thank you so much for your encouragement. I have to keep reminding myself to follow my passion despite the hurdles that I will face along the way. So glad you stopped by and hope to see you again soon.
I just found your blog thanks to your artichoke and hearts of palm dip (which I can’t wait to try). I love what you are doing in the world and truly believe food is a very powerful tool for those suffering from illness. I agree with Rebecca Katz (ahhhh, I LOVE her cookbooks)….don’t give up on your dream. You are obviously on this earth to help others and we are lucky to have people like you in the world!
Wow! I started following your boards on Pinterest a few weeks ago because the recipes you posted looked right up my alley. You see, I have breast cancer and since my diagnosis have completely changed my diet from what it was before. My Mom and I both have well-worn copies of The Cancer Fighting Kitchen and love Rebecca’s recipes. Keep it up Jeanette, you are doing great!
Thank you so much Genevieve for your encouraging words. It is people like you that find my blog somehow and reconfirm that I am making a difference that keep me going. I wish you well and am so encouraged that you have completely changed your diet since your diagnosis. The women that I have cooked for have all done the same, and I truly believe it is so critical to fighting cancer. Rebecca Katz’s cookbook is my favorite – she is such a wonderful woman and has a big heart. May God bless you and your family.
Thanks Jeanette. After my diagnosis, friends offered to cook my new foods for me or with me, so I named it “Kill Cancer Cooking” and we had a lot of fun with it. I’ll stay up with your recipes and blog. Happy Cooking!
Thanks for your comment Genevieve. You are so fortunate to have friends who understand “Food as Medicine” and cook you healthy foods. I would love to hear what you all have been making. The more we share, the better. We can all benefit from what everyone is doing to eat healthily with the goal of preventing an fighting disease and illness. God Bless.
Just stumbled across your blog today and want to say that not only do I look forward to making some of these awesome recipes but wow, you rock! I’ve never met of anyone who cooks like that for cancer patients and think it is amazing! Nutrition is huge but also yummy food that they may not have energy to cook as well as the kindness of a stranger who becomes a friend? Don’t let anyone get your spirits down, you are doing a wonderful thing! I’ve only cooked for my MIL as she fights cancer to help her but to do that for others is way cool especially as you’ve got so much on your plate with all that you are cooking for/taking care of! Keep it up, the rewards will be great!
Hi CJ, thank you so much for your encouragement. How wonderful that you are cooking or your mother-in-law as she fights cancer – she is so fortunate to have you help her. My hope is more people will learn to cook healthy foods for not just themselves, but those around them who are battling cancer and other illnesses.
Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator says
Jeanette, great post and your passion shines through. I too wonder sometimes if I should get more credentials, and then I get over it. 🙂
My 16 year old niece was recently diagnosed with cancer and just finished her first round of chemo. She is struggling with having no appetite and eating now. I so appreciate what you do and the recipes you share. I want to do something to help out my niece and family and making some of your recipes just may be a way that I can. Thank you!
Dee, I am so sorry to hear about your niece. I’m sure she and her family would greatly appreciate you cooking for your niece. We’ve been making popsicles (https://jeanetteshealthyliving.com/2012/07/kids-cooking-channel-video-healthy-mixed-berry-popsicles-for-cancer.html and https://jeanetteshealthyliving.com/2012/07/kids-cooking-channel-video-healthy-mixed-berry-popsicles-for-cancer.html) for a friend with cancer undergoing chemotherapy. They are great for mouth sores and provide some extra nutrition with the whole grain cereal and yogurt.
Hi jeanette,Let me begin by telling you that some weeks ago while on pinterest i found some of your recipes and joined you. I don’t believe in coincidences .Took my husband to ER cause of some back pain and 2 weeks later he was diagnosed with lung cancer,soon to start qimio . He is 76,i am 66.So now while on your page i find all these recipes and info on cooking for cancer patients. So glad i’ve found you. I’m still very overwhelmed since it’s just hubby for me and i for hubby. I must learn to cook just the right meals for us now on a very tight budget. Will be trying my best for his sake and mine. Blessed you are,and what a wonderful gift you have been given. Never let anyone try to put you down,for they may try ,but will only achieve it if you allow them to.
Mabel, thanks so much for your note. So sorry to hear about your husband’s diagnosis. As you know from reading through my blog, I have a passion for cooking for people with cancer. Soups and smoothies have worked really well for people I’ve cooked for who are going through chemo. Bean soups are inexpensive and nutritious. If you can stir in some spinach, leafy green vegetables are also good. Rebecca Katz has a really good book The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, which has lots of recipes for people undergoing treatment. Taste buds can change and there are other symptoms that might make eating more challenging. Smaller meals and more frequent meals are usually suggested to keep nutrition up and help to deal with reduced appetites. I used to go to my friends’ house every morning and make her a fruit smoothie to get her day started off. Non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt is really high in protein and can be added to smoothies. The Magic Mineral Broth is a great soup when your husband needs to stay hydrated but doesn’t feel hungry. It’s got lots of nutrients from all the vegetables that are cooked in it. If I can help further, please let me know.