Friday, 25 April 2008

Statistically insignificant

Five years ago yesterday someone I happen to know quite well went into remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a cancer of the lymphatic system). Today is a significant day for being the first day of that person’s return to statistical insignificance. We had a little celebration with some friends and got an Indian take-away and some beers. I made some banana daal and cooked some wholegrain rice and home-made naan to accompany it, and it struck me just how many of the ingredients are good for fighting cancer: onions and garlic (neutralize carcinogens), lentils (like other beans, full of protease inhibitors which make it hard for cancer cells to spread outwards), turmeric (inhibits the production of enzymes associated with cancers), banana (fruits are good for protecting against colon cancer) and the wholegrain in the rice.

The person I’m thinking of always resists being described as brave in the way that they went about facing their gruelling treatment, as they say that they had no choice. That’s true, but they showed amazing fortitude and strength of character through 8 months of chemo and 4 weeks of radiotherapy (and all the associated feelings of ‘nurgh’ – a very evocative word), and I was very proud of them. That person was already a pretty healthy eater, and didn’t especially change their diet in the light of their diagnosis and treatment, but the most notable change in their relationship with food was that they developed a truly ENORMOUS appetite! It’s a shame that steak can’t be prescribed on the NHS. One memorable evening they ate dinner in a restaurant and then shrugged and ordered another whole main course. Another time they challenged the staff at a pub as to whether they really meant ‘as many eggs as you like’ on the Sunday brunch – and certainly did their best to test the promise. So curry with extra daal and home-made naan seemed like an appropriate way to celebrate their return to normality.

Since that person’s happy outcome I’ve become very aware of cooking with foods which might prevent cancers and other diseases, and increase the body’s chance of fighting them. I would love it if more people had a happy ending to their brushes with this nasty disease. So, I’m sending my banana daal to Mele Cotte’s second Cooking to Combat Cancer event, happy that I am still sharing hearty portions of healthy food with my particular friend five years after their treatment ended. They’re still waiting for their radioactive superpowers to arrive though.

Banana daal (from The accidental vegetarian)

Serves 6

1 onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2.5 cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Pinch turmeric
225g red lentils, well rinsed and drained (I was a ditzo and forgot to check on the lentil supplies in advance, and so had to substitute lentilles vertes)
700ml/1 ¼ pints warmed stock
Pinch ground cumin, ground coriander, garam masala
4 firm bananas, thinly sliced

Fry onion, garlic and ginger and the oil over a low heat for about 10 mins, until soft and golden. Add turmeric and cook 1 minute

Add lentils and fry 1-2 mins

Add warmed stock and bring to the boil, then simmer 15 mins

Add spices, season and cook a further 10 mins

A couple of minutes before serving fold in the bananas and warm through


Johanna said...

I'm glad your friend is recovered and able to eat much better than the NHS will allow! And amazed to see this daal because I was looking at it in that book in the library just days ago and thinking I must cook it sometime

Lysy said...

How funny! That one's my favourite recipe in the book but I haven't tried actually cooking too many of the others. I love the daal with the banana but none of our other guests took up the invitation to slice some in. I think they were distracted by curry!

Ilana said...

Sorry, medical student is going to spoil things again!

I'm afraid I don't really agree about specific foods that are singled out for being anti-cancer. The mainstream message is that being a healthy weight and having a high fibre, low red meat diet (as well as exercise and not smoking) are the keys to cancer prevention - the statistic of 2/3rds of cancers being food-related is about the risk of obesity and low fibre for gut cancers.

There isn't enough evidence to say that specific foods are good, even the ones like tomatoes that are fairly well accepted by the medical community - see

not that this matters much to you because eating healthily is the key thing, which is what you love doing :)

and 3 cheers for the aliveness of a certain person.

I x

Chris said...

I am thrilled your friend is in remission. Five years is a biggy! Thanks for your support and participation in CC2....and for introducing me to a new dish! :)

Lysy said...

Thank you so much for all your good wishes on my friend's 5 years - it feels like a really big deal!

I do agree with you on the super-foods thing, Eco Sis - we always joke that new 'discoveries' in nutrition and health always involve eating a healthy and varied diet and taking exercise. I like using the so-called 'superfoods' as a fun way to focus on healthy eating, and if some of them equip our cells to stay particularly healthy then so much the better!

Katherine said...

I didn't know that it was 5 years. Yay to being insignificant again. Big hug to the little number. Does that all make sense?