A group of cancer patients at Sunderland Royal Hospital had an exclusive opportunity to work with a top food writer as they learned new ways of cooking to help them to enjoy the taste and texture of food that can be lost during treatment.
Life Kitchen founder Ryan Riley met with 12 patients undergoing treatment for various forms of head and neck cancer attended a special cookery class at Sunderland College.
Ryan showed them how strong flavours and specific ingredients can help to overcome the damage done to taste receptors.
A large number of patients who undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy find that their sense of taste is affected or goes completely which can be very upsetting.
Some also develop dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, due to the location of their cancer and the regions that the treatment is focussed on.
Ryan founded the Life Kitchen, which offers free cooking classes for people living with cancer, following the death of his mother to small cell lung cancer.
He saw first-hand how treatment affected her love of food and so decided to set up the charity.
After being approached by the Speech and Language Therapy Team at City Hopsitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Sunderland-born Ryan agreed to work with some of the hospitals head and neck cancer patients who were suffering the after effects of treatment and struggling to eat and enjoy food.
As well as watching Ryan, the patients were also challenge to cook themselves and made pineapple tacos with prawn, lime and coriander and marinated and roasted cauliflower and cauliflower leaves.
Ryan said: “Life Kitchen is what I do day in, day out, but this was always going to be a little different.
“As well as working in a different environment there are textural things to address here.
“Life Kitchen mostly focuses on taste and flavour.
“This is a unique situation and there have been some lovely moments.
“There’s been people smiling and it’s just been really amazing to see everyone get together.
“It’s a tough time for those with head and neck cancer, especially the eating side, so I am really pleased that I’ve been able to have a bit of fun with these guys.”
Beth Halliday, speech and language therapist in the head and neck cancer team and lead for the project, said: “Cancer treatment can have a debilitating effect on our patients and can result, in the short term, in very painful sores in the mouth and throat that can make eating an almost unbearable experience.
“Longer term, treatment effects include tightness and reduced mobility of the muscles used to swallow, which significant limit their intake of food and drink, as well as the enjoyment of it.
“We can help with treatment and rehabilitation, but the psychological impact and effect on quality of life can be much more far reaching.
“Many of our patients find that their sense of taste is diminished or they simply struggle to swallow and the food that they once enjoyed is now bland and unappealing.
“The work Ryan is doing to transform how patients look at food is fantastic and we were really keen to work with him.”
Rob Stewart, curriculum manager for hospitality, tourism and engagement at Sunderland College, said: “It was great to see our space used for such an important issue and for us to be able to educate our hospitality and professional cookery students about it.”