A new cookbook has recipes and advice for breast cancer survivors

October 12, 2012

By Donna Peck

Barbara Unell and Judith Fertig

When Barbara Unell finished her last radiation treatment for breast cancer in 1998, she says one of the first things she asked her doctor and other health care professionals was what she could do to help herself recover from the physical and emotional toll of dealing with cancer.  Because she had difficulty finding the information she wanted about breast cancer recovery, she founded Back in the Swing, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving and protecting the health of women who have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. In the 12 years since its founding, Back in the Swing has supported clinical research and breast cancer survivorship programs, including Breast Cancer Survivorship Center at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

One of the areas that has intrigued Unell is how a healthier lifestyle can benefit breast cancer survivors. Unell says many survivors are left with health issues that require lifelong attention.

"After going through the rigors of fighting breast cancer, your awareness of your health is heightened," Unell says. "At Back in the Swing, we have worked hard to find solutions for women who are interested in leading the healthiest lifestyle possible."

As part of Back in the Swing's efforts to encourage breast cancer survivors to live a healthier lifestyle, the organization has just published the "Back in the Swing Cookbook."  Working with celebrated cookbook author Judith Fertig, Unell has come up with a book that is filled not only with healthy recipes, but also with short research-based articles on living a full and happy life after cancer.

"We didn't want to repeat what was already out there," Unell says. "There are thousands of cookbooks that tout healthy recipes, but by combining healthy cooking with advice tailored specifically toward the cancer survivor, I think we've come up with something unique."

Unell says although she is confident readers will love the recipes she and Fertig have chosen, she believes it is the evidence-based recommendations they have included on healthy living for breast cancer survivors that is the heart of the book. Unell worked closely on the lifestyle sections of the book with Jennifer Klemp, Ph.D., MPH, associate director at the Breast Cancer Survivorship Center at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. For example, there are short items in the cookbook on whether switching to soy products can help prevent cancer recurrence; how to cope with "chemo" brain; and the effect of meditation on immune system function.

After she came up with the idea for the Back in the Swing cookbook, Unell turned to Fertig, who is the author of more than 20 cookbooks and has written extensively on food and cooking. Fertig says she was excited and challenged by Unell's concept for a cookbook.

"Every cookbook has parameters, whether it's comfort food, seafood or vegetarian dishes," Fertig says. "But I have never seen a cookbook that is aimed primarily at women who have gone through the trauma of breast cancer and are eager to lead healthier lives."

Fertig says she and Unell wanted to use recipes that used lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. The two women spent many hours adapting and testing recipes for the book. Fertig says if a recipe was too complicated, it didn't make it into the book.

"We wanted the recipes to be as simple as possible," Fertig says. "Most women dealing with the aftermath of breast cancer already have a lot on their plates. They aren't going to want to spend hours in the kitchen every day."

Unell and Fertig say while they both like all of the 150 recipes in the cookbook, they do have their favorites. Fertig loves the Potato Frittata Twist, while Unell recommends the Celebration Chocolate Cake, which is made with pumpkin and applesauce instead of oil.

Among those praising the benefits of the Back in the Swing cookbook is Carol Fabian, M.D., professor of medicine at KU Medical Center and medical director for the Breast Cancer Prevention and Survivorship Center at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

"I'm very excited that the book will provide breast cancer survivors with access to real-life examples and practical information to promote living a fuller and healthier life," Fabian says.

Unell says after working on the cookbook for more than two years, she is gratified that the early response from breast cancer survivors has been so positive.

"Yes, we know it is a great cookbook with healthy recipes," Unell says. "But we are hopeful that it will also change the conversation about beating cancer and survival."

Last modified: Nov 08, 2012