One question nearly always arises when Dr. Corrine Zarwan, an oncologist from Newton, or any of her colleagues at Lahey Clinic in Burlington talk with a new patient about what to expect during cancer treatment: what they should eat or avoid eating. Having worked in the field of oncology for more than a decade, Zarwan knows how to answer, but shortly after she arrived at Lahey Clinic in 2008, a discussion with some colleagues led her to do more than just prepare answers. She and a group of other physicians, including Dr. Keith Stuart, head of oncology at Lahey, started preparing dishes with their patients in mind, and documenting their recipes. The result is a cookbook called “The Lahey Clinic Guide to Cooking Through Cancer: 100+ Recipes for Treatment and Recovery,’’ published earlier this year by Countryman Press
Through her years of experience treating and talking with patients, Zarwan knew that what would most affect patients’ diets in the weeks and months of treatment that lay ahead of them it was less a matter of what they should or should not eat in the weeks and months of treatment that lay ahead, and more a question of what they would want to eat.
Here, Zarwan prepares vegetables to make dishes from the cookbook.
Side effects that typically, though certainly not always, accompany cancer treatment can interfere with both the process of eating and the enjoyment of food, with the symptoms such including as dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, weight loss, mouth pain, and difficulty swallowing. The Lahey group decided to organize the book around these such symptoms.
Here, Stuart prepares basil for a dish from the cookbook.
The Lahey book’s recipes include fruit smoothies for patients with mouth sores, banana-flaxseed wraps for patients with constipation, and rice-flour pancakes for patients with diarrhea. In the section addressing nausea, perhaps the most frequently anticipated symptom of cancer treatment, the recipes are designed to smell enticing without overly strong or pungent odors.
Here, Zarwan adds ingredients to the “Light Broccoli Frittata,” a dish from the cookbook.
Zarwan said she has come to recognize just in the few months since the book’s publication how diverse its audience is. Initially she thought of it as a cookbook that would be used mostly by caregivers of people in cancer treatment — loving family members who wanted to nurture the patient as best they could with tempting meals. But she soon came to realize that it doesn’t need to be a family member or intimate friend: The impulse to provide food to someone undergoing illness is far more widespread than that. Friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellow church members, anyone who might find themselves in the position of dropping off a meal, she said, can benefit from knowing what foods are especially appropriate and which ones to avoid, she said.
Stuart adds turkey to the dish, “African Peanut Stew” from the cookbook.
The final section of the book is titled “Celebrations” and includes recipes for special treats and cocktails.
“We wanted to end with something uplifting,” Zarwan said. “People are likely to have the chance to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and other special events during the course of their treatment, and we want them to know it’s fine to indulge sometimes.’’