Fresh corn, onion, and bean salad

Healthy living one meal at a time

Terri Edwards likes to call it “culinary medicine,” and participants in her four-session course seemed eager for a full dose.

Edwards, the Food for Life instructor, prepared a meal for nearly 20 people – all of whom have battled cancer. Some are well into recovery, while others are still receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

The meal prepared by Edwards did not include any meat, cheese or anything deep fried. Instead, she offered up a combination of corn, onions, red peppers and several varieties of beans, all flavored in a soy sauce and vinegar concoction.

An expert in plant-based nutrition and veganism, Edwards was on hand to give the group ideas and inspiration for eating a more healthy diet.

“It’s different from what I’m accustomed to, but very tasty,” said participant Judy Kirkland of the all-vegetable meal. “It has just been such an experience to talk with people who have shared your journey.”

Edwards’ nutrition and cooking course is among the offerings of the Cancer Survivorship Program at Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute. It’s made possible through funds given to the Spartanburg Regional Foundation.

“We base programs on the needs and requests of our patients, which are always changing,” said Stacey Kindall, community outreach coordinator at Gibbs Cancer Center.

In addition to learning about nutrition, patients benefit from counseling sessions and such therapeutic activities such as West African drumming. Gibbs also addresses physical activity for cancer patients, providing pedometers to help patients track daily walking goals.

Kirkland has taken part in numerous programs and said she has enjoyed them all. She appreciates the opportunity to make new friends and to bond with other people with cancer.

“The idea is to support healthy lifestyles, helping cancer patients make it through treatment and enjoy the best chance of staying well,” Kindall said. “It is important that we care for the whole person, whether mentally, physically, emotionally or socially.”

As for the special food, Edwards sees nutrition as a way to give patients a measure of control.

“So many of us feel like victims in our own body,” she said. “Suddenly, by learning about diet, you feel like you have a little bit of control and can make sure you get the vital nutrients you need.”

As patients establish a healthier diet, Edwards has watched them become more energetic. Many lose weight and are even able to cut back on medicines they take.

“That’s the thing I love most about teaching the classes,” Edwards said. “You can see this progress.”

While Edwards’ course promotes a vegan diet, which means no animal byproducts, such as meat or dairy, she understands that this is not for everyone. She stresses, however, that healthy eating is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Significant steps toward reducing fat and eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains can make a difference. Healthy eating can be especially important in preventing or reducing the effects of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Edwards recognition of the ties between diet and health occurred several years ago. With rheumatoid arthritis in her family, she became concerned when she began to experience joint pain and inflammation. So, to support her health goals, she made the dramatic move to become vegan.

Kindall is grateful for opportunities to improve the lives of cancer survivors.

“I think our greatest wealth is our health, and having the opportunity to contribute to the wellness of survivors is priceless,” she said.