A mix of diet, chemotherapy and emotional healing has helped Nourish Champion Simon Gale after a diagnosis of cancer in his bile duct. He shares his story with Nourish
Simon with his wife Sue and their four children. Photograph Stephanie Chappell Creative
‘In December 2015 I was told I had a tumour in my bile duct. I’d known something was wrong for a few weeks – it gave me symptoms of acute jaundice and I went bright yellow! I was taken into hospital on Christmas Eve and the plan was to remove the tumour in an operation two weeks later. During the procedure they found the cancer had spread to my liver and I was told that I would be given only palliative care. That all changed when my surgeon, Mr Giuseppe Kito Fusai, introduced me to Justin Stebbing, Professor of Cancer Medicine and Oncology at Imperial College London. They believed in me enough to formulate a plan together, using a course of chemotherapy usually used for pancreatic cancer to give me a shot at life.
At the same time, I met Jane Clarke. She showed me how to nourish my body throughout my treatment, so that I could still enjoy a country walk or explore a village market and my diagnosis wouldn’t take over my life. Jane gently asked me to try new ingredients and to question my long-held prejudices about certain foods. “I don’t like spinach,” I would think to myself, most probably because of childhood memories of boiled veg. But Jane is so patient. Now there’s nothing new I won’t try – and of course, I adore spinach now!
‘I believe nutrition has been key to both my illness and my recovery. Six years ago, my life was very chaotic. I was driven by my work, didn’t eat well and was smoking and drinking. I’m sure it contributed to my cancer diagnosis. I had the most fantastic wife, four wonderful children and a great lifestyle, but there was no balance; it was all about me. I decided that to change it, to turn it around for everyone, I needed to reconnect with my passions. When I was eight, I loved to cook with my grandmother. I went on to train as a chef but I lost my way. It was time to remedy that. At age 50, I started a new business with my wife Sue and our dear friend Celia Dulieu, called HEART Kitchen.
‘The core of what we do is to cook and share good times together. We run workshops where go foraging or to a farmers’ market, choose food and then cook and eat together. It’s about rekindling a relationship with fabulous food that has been lovingly grown or reared. It’s about connecting our body to our heart to experience all the wonders of food, together.
Simon's Breakfast or Anytime Shakshuka
'I’m in complete harmony with Jane and her approach to food and eating. We have a shared love of socialising around mealtimes and how it can create quality time with those we love. There is something very beautiful about cooking with family or a friendship group; it’s very powerful. My biggest joy is going to the table, seeing a wink or a smile from people as they take their first mouthful. When our taste buds go crazy, our souls light up!
'It’s 15 months since my cancer diagnosis. As well as chemotherapy and Jane’s help with my diet, I’ve tried other therapies such as meditation, homeopathy and spiritual healing. Life is a gift that has been offered back to me and I intend to make the most of every second.'
Simon says: smashing the garlic
‘I have come to realise that my life, love, relationships rarely come in organised, neat little steps. Maybe that was my problem. For years I wanted things to go in a certain way and failed to see how life would move naturally. I thought that if I packaged everything up neatly it would give me control of my emotions and my life. Looking back, I had the fear of showing the parts of me that had been smashed, exposing myself to the world, so like the sliced garlic, my juice did not flow. Let me show you…
'Take a garlic bulb, right now. What I learned from my friend, Roger, a wonderful French chef living in Canada, is that garlic has a very interesting quality. It heals itself after it has been cut. Just like your finger would want to retain its blood, the garlic wants to retain its juice. By slicing the garlic, slowly and carefully, it locks its juice back inside. Smashing the garlic means it can’t heal itself and its juice can really be tasted.
'Try it, smash it right now, hard with the side of a large knife! See the juice! So, maybe you’re wondering right now, what has garlic got to do with life. What I am saying is, my life, your life, relationships, love are not supposed to be slowly dissected and put into neat little packages; we are meant to be smashed. For me, my juice, inside of me, starts to flow out and adds flavour to everything I touch.
'So, my encouragement is to let go of fear and let your life force, your flavour, spill out into the world like the smashed garlic. Transfer this into your life and into your food. Show up as who you truly are with all your juice and richness, no matter what disasters, challenges and hazards you are faced with, and enjoy all of life’s richness, fullness and beauty. You deserve it! As does the World!’
Portrait of Simon on previous page by Stephanie Chappell Creative