Obviously as you are reading this blog on some kind of device through the modern voodoo that is the Internet, you don’t need to be convinced of the value of New Media. Blogs, websites, Twitter, Facebook (still a hold out on the latter), Reddit, Google+ etc are the way many of us get current, useable information. No more waiting for the 6 pm TV bulletins or morning newspapers to find out what is happening/has happened.
We also get to ‘meet’ some fantastically inspiring kindred spirits who, without the Internet, we would never know. Without getting all slushy I know my life has been enriched not only by having quality information at the click of a mouse, but connections with thoughtful and thought-provoking people at any time of day or night. Susan Gonzalez is one such person. And Susan, dear reader, has written – with Flo Strang – a fantastically useful and dare I say, funny, book about cancer.
Yep. The dreaded C word. Titled “100 Perks Of Having Cancer, Plus 100 Tips For Surviving It” this 465-page book immediately captures your attention. You may rightly be thinking ‘how in the hell can cancer have perks, let alone 100 of them?’ And as for surviving? WTH?’
Scoff not. This book is great. 100 Perks is brimming with humour, attitude, intelligence and wisdom. Written from an American perspective some of it isn’t strictly applicable to non-US readers (eg heath care system, some dietary/food stuff), but that is a tiny issue. You will I think be charmed by the co-author’s different takes on facing treatment for what is a very common set of diseases (200 or so types). Flo and Susan have both gone through treatment for Stage 3 breast cancer, and have basically been there and got the Cancer Sucks T-shirt. That they then neatly folded away and popped in a drawer. For them cancer can and does suck, but that is only part of it.
The layout of the book is simple: 100 ‘perks’ from Flo intertwined with practical tips from Susan. This duet of voices makes for a highly readable book. Black and white images and illustrations break up the easy-to-read, well-spaced text. Some of the illustrations are quite funny too (see Health Tip 2: You Need Estrogen to Make Your Kitty Purr…).
Registered Psychologist Flo comes at you with inspiring anecdotes and insights that document the year she was in active treatment. It’s not all sweetness and light; ‘oh having cancer is wonderful.’ But rather Flo recognises at face value some of the interesting opportunities and quirky benefits she has come across – or made happen – during her year of treatment. Some of Flo’s perks are practical, but most are about seizing opportunities and seeing things in a new way – enjoying family time, putting the trivial or seemingly-scary into perspective, making time to do things you love, shaking up your lifestyle, learning the power and peace of forgiveness. Some are quite funny too – her bald head made her look more like her closely-cropped son; and she didn’t have to worry about dinner guests finding hair in food she prepared :D. Flo’s observations are not of course universal to all undergoing cancer treatment, but she does make you think about your own blessings, opportunities and experiences, nudging you to look at what on first analysis seems negative and see it in a different light. Even those without cancer will get a good reality check by reading her sage and funny observations.
Susan’s part is equally important and wise. Her angle is practical health-related tips on getting through – the “surviving” in the title – treatment in as best shape as you can. A nurse by training, Susan expertly negotiates scientific literature to give the reader health-related tips that more or less complement Flo’s perks. Like Flo, Susan’s writing is infused with humour – as is her wonderful, laugh-out-loud blog The Sassy Sister – but she is essentially the straight man in this writing duo, dispensing advice on bowel movements (“I Love Pooping”), natural skincare (she is an expert, btw), the art of napping, positive worrying,choosing a diet that’s right for you, what’s the deal with organic, is there joy in soy, how to interpret health-related news stories and scientific studies, and the road to recovery is paved with garlic. As a practical sort I really loved reading Susan’s tips, and nearly all are useful to anyone whatever their health status. Her recipes also look damn tasty too (don’t read on an empty stomach or you will be dashing to the store).
In short I would highly recommend 100 Perks to anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer. Depending on the person it is also suitable as a gift for someone going through treatment - although perhaps not for someone who is emotionally vulnerable or who is having a ‘bad chemo.’ If you aren’t sure, buy it anyway and hang on to it until the time is right (sneaking a read first).
In keeping with the spirit of the book – looking after yourself – below is a quick little recipe for a healthy snack. Make it up and keep it in a little box or tin in the refrigerator to nibble on when you need a healthy energy boost. Each small square serving gives a good amount of beta-carotene, healthy fats, lutein, protein and fibre: great for lunch boxes, briefcases, hospital appointments (to lessen the temptation of the nasty vending machines), mid-afternoon blood sugar dips or even a quick breakfast with a pot of yogurt. Sticky, natural sweet and actually quite good for you. I hope Susan approves! PS Look below the recipe for an awesome tweak (hint: Jaffa Cake!)
Two years ago: Courgette, Pea and Pesto Soup
Miss R’s track of the week: Arctic Monkeys “Knee Socks” from the fabulous AM album
There are lots of raw bars, power bars, power balls, and other fun/alarmingly-healthy- sounding whole food snacks on the Interweb. This one – one I think I have invented – is our favourite. We love the tangy sweetness of the apricots and clementine all smoodged up between the two sticky layers of blitzed cashews and dates. The spices are optional but I think they flatter the main flavours. The turmeric does NOT make this like a curry! It is more like ginger (to which it is closely related). You can use ground ginger but it is good to use turmeric in ways other than curries.
I have the recipe made up as bars here, but you could mix the whole thing up and make into balls for ease (roll in coconut perhaps?). And you could dip in melted dark chocolate to ensnare the would-be sceptics. Me? I like them in the raw. UPDATE: my friend Niki said the choccie version is like a healthy Jaffa Cake, so new image below – No-Bake Jaffa Cake! And it is! Jut add a little more orange or some orange flower water;D
You will need a food processor or mini chop-type blender (these often come with immersion/stick blender) and a 23cm x 23cm (9”x9”) pan lined with a long, overhanging length of cling film/food wrap
75g (1/2 packed cup) moist dates, stoned and roughly chopped
50g (1/2 cup) oats (gluten-free if needed)
215g (3/4 cup) raw cashews, soaked for 15 minutes in hot water and drained
1 tsp each ground cinnamon and turmeric and a grind or two of black pepper
good pinch of salt
200g (1 ½ cups) dried apricots
juice and finely grated zest of one clementine/satsuma or ½ medium orange
¼ tsp vanilla powder or ½ tsp vanilla extract
1. Blend together the dates, oats, cashews, cinnamon, turmeric and salt until clumping together and sticky.
2. Scrape the mixture out of the food processor and press two-thirds into a cling film-lined 23cm x 23cm (9”x9”) pan or dish. It helps to have the cling film quite long and lay the excess over the mixture to help press it out evenly. Put the remaining mixture aside.
3. Wipe out or clean the food processor bowl and blitz the apricots, clementine juice and zest, and the vanilla. Spread this mixture evenly over the nutty base.
4. Dot over the remaining nutty mixture and press down evenly, using the excess cling film to help. Press down quite firmly as you want the whole thing to stay together as cut bars. Cover with the by now quite sticky clingfilm and pop in the freezer for half an hour; remove the cling film and cut into bars. Store in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Makes 12-16 bars.
PS You may have noticed the plastic knife in the top image – plastic knives are great for cutting sticky things. They glide right through without crushing or making excess crumbs – perfect for cutting brownies and traybakes.