‘Cancer can be a lonely place’

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‘Cancer can be a lonely place’

By Jane Clarke

November 11, 2018

Susan Quirke was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2017. She talks to Nourish about life after treatment and how good food is helping her to find her energy and spark once again

Each October is marked as Breast Cancer Awareness month, when it seems the whole world is talking about cancer, but you’ve written a blog about how isolated you’ve felt during your treatment. Can you tell us more?
Of course it’s good to raise awareness of breast cancer but I get frustrated with how commercial ‘Pinktober’ has become. Instead of people buying a pink ribbon or posting pictures of their bra on social media, I want people to understand what it’s like to live with a diagnosis of breast cancer, especially when you look ‘well’. I struggled with nausea and just putting one foot in front of the other during my treatment, but people were always telling me how great I looked. I always replied that I looked even better when I had breast cancer and it hadn’t been diagnosed yet! I also found people assumed I wanted time alone, when actually I wanted distractions from thinking about my cancer; I wanted to hear about them and their life. In Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d encourage anyone to give up a seat or talk to someone they know who has cancer. Cancer is a very lonely place and being alone with your own thoughts and fears is the worst thing.


How did you meet Jane Clarke?

I was 41 when I was diagnosed, vegetarian, I didn’t smoke, I was a Pilates teacher and interior designer, no family history of the disease. I found Jane because I was feeling depressed with my lack of energy a year after finishing treatment for my breast cancer. I wanted to be myself again. I wish I’d found her earlier!

What struggles did you have around food?

I had to overcome a mentality of being too tired to eat and waiting for my husband, Patrick, to come home and cook for me. I was also relying on a chocolate bar or fizzy drink to give me a boost. Jane’s asked me to keep a food and mood diary, so I can look at the reasons why I turn to those quick fixes, so tiredness might be a trigger but there might be an emotional reason, too. And we’re looking at how to include more protein in my diet to help improve my energy levels.

How has your eating changed?

I’ve always had good breakfasts, like scrambled eggs, but now I’ve jazzed them up more; I’ve bought parsley to add colour and flavour. And I remind myself to pick up fruit and drink water during the day. It’s more my dinnertimes that have changed. Instead of going to the supermarket and buying a processed meal, I’m trying to cook with more seasonal food. Patrick tends to be the chef but preparing food together has brought us even closer. We’re collecting a file of recipes and I’m finding it empowering to look after myself.

Susan Quirke

What advice would have helped you during treatment?

When you have cancer and you’re feeling exhausted, the last thing you want to do is worry about sourcing a pomegranate or some unusual ingredient. But think about what you’d really like to eat, ask someone to go to the supermarket for you, or do an online shop. I found meal deliveries useful for a dinner once or twice a week, as paying for it meant I’d eat the food!

Be prepared for your appetite to change week by week during your treatment, so explore new flavours. I had to during chemotherapy because it makes everything taste metallic; it was like eating a mouthful of coins. If someone has cooked for you, it’s hard for them when that food is rejected, but don’t be offended if we like food one day and not the next; it’s not personal.

I found it really helped to ‘eat with my eyes’ and that’s a tip that can help if someone is cooking food for you, too. If food looks yum, we’re more likely to give it a go; so add that extra touch on presentation.

How are you feeling now?

My energy is returning so I’m able to do more and get back to teaching Pilates. I even took up boxing a year ago! I tend to feel more fatigued as the day goes on, so I try to do social things at lunchtime instead. But on Halloween it will be a year since I’ve had to take any pills and potions.

Do you have a favourite recipe?

I love acai bowls. Acai berries are packed with antioxidants, they look good and are easy to eat. I like this recipe as you can change up the fruits with the season. Blend one handful blueberries and strawberries (frozen is fine), 2 bananas, 1 tablespoon acai powder and 250ml apple juice. Top with fresh fruits, such as raspberries, blueberries, nectarine and kiwi, then sprinkle with seeds and chopped nuts.

acai smoothie bowl

Find Susan’s blogs on her Facebook and on Instagram

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