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Mar 29 / suzanne

Tips from Wendy, A Grateful Neighbor in Chemo

Wendy Buchanan and her husband, Don

If Wendy Buchanan’s friends hadn’t organized a meal train during her chemotherapy for breast cancer, dinner at the Buchanan household would be quite a different story.

“There would be TV dinners involved and Chinese takeout and a lot of trips to Panera Bread,” says Wendy’s husband, Don. “The food we’re getting is so much better for her health than what I’d be providing. I didn’t know Wendy had so many friends who are such great cooks.”

Wendy is enrolled in a clinical trial for triple negative breast cancer at University of California San Francisco Medical Center, a two- or three-hour drive from her home in Lodi, depending on traffic. She’s midway through a 16-week chemo regimen that will be followed by surgery and radiation.

To help Wendy get through the long, exhausting haul, her friend Tess signed her up for mealTrain and put out the word on Facebook and through her Rah Rah Sisterhood, the group of friends who have been following her story via Caring Bridge. Meals arrive on Wednesdays and Sundays and last two or three days.

“It’s not just the food that has been a lifesaver,” says Wendy. “It means we don’t have to go to the grocery store and prepare the food, and clean-up is minimal because most meals have been delivered in disposable containers.”

Wendy was diagnosed shortly after retiring from a 35-year career as an elementary-school teacher. Many of the meal givers are her colleagues, former students and parents of students. “I’ve been overwhelmed with the love and the help,” Wendy says. “I have felt really special through this whole thing.”

Adds Don: “The meals have unburdened me to a large degree. There’s been enough stress in this household without us having to worry about food.”

Wendy’s experience with chemo has been different than that of Colleen Dunn Bates, another of our Grateful Neighbors who underwent treatment for triple negative breast cancer. Whereas Colleen craved ice cream and popsicles to soothe her dry mouth, Wendy says chilly desserts are low on her list. “Chemo makes me cold — I’ve been freezing the whole time,” she says.

While chemo blasted Colleen’s taste buds into submission, Wendy can still appreciate flavors, though she doesn’t have much of an appetite. And oddly, her chemo regimen, carboplatin, has given most foods a metallic edge. Red meat is the exception. “My favorites have included a pork chop meal, a tri-tip salad dinner, and a pot roast,” Wendy says. Note to Wendy’s friends: Try this recipe for Roast Beef and Onions!

Here are Wendy’s meal-giving tips.

•Stay a while and visit. I’m a very social person and I crave company. I’ve really liked having the visitors for 30 minutes or so.

•Let the patient bring up her condition. I’m pretty open about the cancer, so I don’t mind talking about it, but for the most part, I like to have visitors fill me in on what’s going on at school or with their children. I’m really into basketball, so we might talk about March Madness.

•Go a little “Martha” with the food presentation if you have time. One of my friends delivered everything in a beautiful basket with a cloth, and she put bread pudding was in these cute little glasses. It was a source of comfort and made me feel really special. The downside was that I had to get the dishes back to her, but she lives close by.

•Ask a neighbor to accept food for you when you’re out of commission. I posted a message on mealTrain that instructed people to drop the food with a trusty neighbor who is around most of the time. Then she’d bring it over and put it in my oven.

•Deliver a complete meal. We’ve been fortunate that the meals have been nutritionally balanced as well as delicious. Almost always, there’s a salad, veggies, meat or poultry, rice or potatoes and dessert. We’ve had some amazing desserts, like chocolate crème brulee and homemade lemon meringue cupcakes!



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