In 2014 Tasmanian Lilly Trewartha was about to set off on an adventure holiday hiking through the Malaysian jungle with friends, but a pre-travel medical check left her facing a challenge of a very different kind.
“I just had a lump on my leg, and I thought I’d get it checked out,” she said.
“Next thing, I was diagnosed with cancer.”
The then 21-year-old was told she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that had caused a total of nine tumours throughout her body.
Like many other people with cancer, Ms Trewartha underwent chemotherapy treatment.
“You go in to the hospital, and you sit on a chair and they pump you full of a drug that helps you, but at the same time makes you feel really bad,” she said.
The process uses a range of drugs to kill and slow the growth of cancer cells, but healthy cells are often affected too, which is when symptoms like nausea, hair loss, fatigue and impaired memory occur.
Those symptoms left Ms Trewartha feeling as though she had lost control over most aspects of her life, so as a trained chef she decided to do the only thing she felt she could.
“Food became a really important thing for me and I started writing down all the recipes that I ate,” she said.
“It had to be simple food, because most of the time I didn’t want to stand in the kitchen for hours and cook like I was used to.”
Now in remission, Ms Trewartha has teamed up with the Cancer Council to share those recipes through a video, helping chemotherapy patients maintain good nutrition.
Lilly Trewartha wants to share her recipes with other people battling cancer. (ABC News: Harriet Aird)
Taste can change during chemotherapy: dietician
Dietician Fiona Rowell said the video would be a valuable resource.
“Lilly as a cancer survivor has that important insight in to how it is in chemotherapy,” she said.
“Her information is probably encouraging to the person [going through treatment] at that time, helping them to think outside of the square of flavour, and trying to adapt their food to make it more palatable.
“The shocking thing is [during chemotherapy] taste can change, so Lilly talks in the video of highly flavouring things.
“She may use a lot more lemon juice or salt or vinegar in situations where, to the average eater, it might be a bit unpalatable, but for somebody going through chemotherapy and they’ve lost their taste, that might make the difference of being able to consume a meal or not.”
The video is being developed in line with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, and will emphasise the importance of keeping food simple, fresh, colourful and appealing during the treatment process.
“Often the smell, the sight, the thought and even the sounds of food can turn them off eating, so eating turns from being a pleasure to being really hard work,” Ms Rowell said.
She said patients who managed to maintain a healthy weight and muscle mass were often able to handle higher doses of chemotherapy, shortening the total treatment time.
“As they lose weight their bodies can’t tolerate as much medicine as they need,” she said.
For Ms Trewartha, it was important to present the information in a way that was easily accessible.
“[When diagnosed] you have this bombardment of information that you don’t know what to do with. So many people go ‘oh, I ate this and you should eat this’, and it’s really hard to kind of navigate through that,” she said.
“I think for a lot of people who don’t have that food knowledge it can be really daunting, it can be really hard, so having something that is easy is important.”
Cancer Council plans wide rollout
Cancer Council Tasmania Acting CEO Raylene Cox said statistically about nine Tasmanians were diagnosed with some form of cancer each day.
“We’re hoping that this video will help a wide range of people,” she said.
“We plan to be able to use it on our website, it’ll be on our YouTube platform, and we’ll use it in our support programs as well.
“Because it’s such a valuable tool we really want it to reach as far as it possibly can.”
The video will be released later this year.