Patients treated for head and neck cancer are helping others through a new cook book to reignite their love of food.
Maria Elliott and Keith Halling, from South Shields, and Claire Scott, from Consett, have used their experiences of going through cancer treatment to create dishes for the new book. Surgery and treatment for throat and neck cancer can have an impact on people’s long-term ability to taste, swallow and make saliva.
To help patients discover ways of enjoying food again, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sunderland have collaborated to create the book. It features images of the dishes, taken by photography students, alongside the recipes and stories of patients.
Copies of the book will be handed to new patients as they start their own treatment and recovery journey.
Speech and language therapist, Beth Halliday who led the project, said: “Many of our head and neck cancer patients can find they have issues with taste or swallowing after their treatment. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can take its toll, killing healthy cells as well as cancerous ones.
“It can take the enjoyment away from food. It can also lead to fibrosis, which is a stiffening in the throat that makes it hard to swallow. Having a book which includes recipes, but also gives first-hand experiences of others is so helpful. It gives patients hope that they can enjoy foods again and they are not alone in the journey.”
Maria Elliott, a former foster carer and magistrate from South Shields, was diagnosed with cancer in one of her tonsils and in a lymph node in March 2020. The 63-year-old, who has undergone surgery and 30 rounds of radiotherapy, said it was a “therapeutic project” to be a part of.
“I think this is very powerful because it’s through the eyes of the patient,” she said.
“We know our experiences and have come through it. This has been not only a therapeutic project to be involved in, but it has also been a wonderful experience working with students and members of the head and neck department to produce a go to booklet for forthcoming patients.”
Retired bank clerk, Claire Scott, 61, was diagnosed with cancer in June 2021. She developed a lump at the base of her tongue, with the cancer also found in her lymph nodes. She needed a feeding tube during treatment and now struggles to taste sweet foods.
“Eating for me now is a mechanical process,” she said.
“I used to be a big foodie. I loved to cook and now eating is a chore. Beth asked me if I would get involved because by that stage I was experimenting with what I could cook and enjoy again.
“Being part of this has been an unbelievable experience. I enjoyed it so much and I know it’ll help other people.”
Anyone interested in accessing the cookbook can ask their Head and Neck Cancer Team.