Interview: Karen McMillan talks about Everyday Strength, the book she co-authored with Sam Mannering

Everyday Strength is an invaluable resource for families facing cancer. Going through treatments for cancer is undoubtedly challenging, which authors Sam Mannering and Karen McMillan well know from personal experience. But this book is packed with practical, everyday things you can do to make each day a little brighter during this difficult time. There are nourishing recipes and wellbeing tips for people facing cancer that will help make every day a little brighter. NZ Booklovers talks to one of the authors, Karen McMillan.

What was the catalyst for writing Everyday Strength?

I have a family history of cancer, unfortunately, so I’ve had a lot of real-life experience with this hideous disease. It robbed me of my father, and then my mother when I was only in my twenties. But the positives from this experience is that I have seen first-hand the medical advances made in my lifetime. I always knew I had a risk of cancer, so I made sure I had regular checks. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, but I caught it early, and I am so grateful now to be six years clear. I wrote a book, Unbreakable Spirit, with 30 real-life stories of what it is like to face cancer – both the good and the bad. From my own experiences, and from writing this book, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people facing cancer. From these discussions I suddenly thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a book for people when they are in the middle of their treatments, a go-to, something that can sit around the house for that time, with wellbeing advice and great recipes? So that’s where the idea came from. My agent loved the idea, and Beatnik Publishing quickly came on board, and now it’s available in NZ, Australia, and the UK, and a host of other countries are also considering publishing.

How did Sam Mannering, your co-author, come to be involved?

I’m not the greatest cook in the world, so I realised from the get-go that I would need to collaborate with a food writer for this project. Sam Mannering was my first choice, simply because I love his food so much. He’s such a talented, personable chef, but he manages to create recipes that are much easier than they look while being super tasty. His book Food Worth Making is one of the cookbooks that is most used in our kitchen (my husband is the foodie). So I approached Sam with the idea, and he said yes, without any hesitation! That’s when I discovered that he had also faced cancer, although I had no idea when I asked him to be involved. Having been through cancer treatments as well, he completely understood what we were trying to achieve.

Can you tell us a little about the philosophy of the book?

Everyday Strength is not going to cure cancer, but we hope it will make everyday a little better. That doesn’t sound much, but having been through all the treatments myself, I know if you can improve your day even a little, it has a massive impact on how you feel and your overall wellbeing. It’s a book for people with cancer whether they have a good or bad prognosis, and it doesn’t matter what type of cancer.

As far as I’m aware, it’s the first book of its type, with half recipes and half wellbeing tips, written specifically for people when they are going through their surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

It’s also a beautiful and appropriate gift to give to friends and family facing cancer. Beatnik Publishing has done a superb job designing the book with its sunny cover and well-considered interior. While it’s not a medical book, medical professionals have approved the text so that people can feel confident about all the tips in the book. And Sam has nailed the brief with his tasty, nutritious and well-considered recipes.

The recipes are a key part of the book. Can you talk us through the recipes and how Sam created them?

Weight loss and weight gain can both be a problem when facing cancer, so Sam has created recipes for both ends of the spectrum.

In creating these recipes, Sam has taken into account the changes in individual palates – flavours that are warm and comforting, rather than the strong and spicy end of the food spectrum – typically experienced by people undergoing treatments. And it is food that the entire family can eat, not ‘invalid’ food. As well as sections with Teas and Smoothies, Soups, Salads, Mains, Baking and Desserts, there is also a special section for children.

It was a challenging brief, but Sam has created recipes that are very well suited for people going through treatments! This is good, nutritious, easy-to-prepare food that cancer patients will enjoy eating. And enjoyment of food is important at this time. Forget the restrictive or fad diets – we have echoed the input from oncologists about food with this selection of recipes.

The wellbeing tips are a key part of the book. Can you take us through some of the content?

We tried to include chapters for all the things that people might worry about at this time, so we ended up with practical suggestions that may help with common symptoms such as exhaustion, changes in weight, nausea, pain and discomfort, and the various symptoms you might not want to talk about. There are sections on hair and skin care, as well as emotional wellbeing. There is also a practical tips for parents.

Each chapter has easy to do things that may help people feel better for the things they are currently concerned about. And the information is divided up so you can easily refer to the section you are concerned with, as what you might worry about may change over time.

We have endeavored to use our own experiences, but have also taken on board feedback from countless individuals and medical professionals to create a book that is full of the best and most practical tips to help you get through this most challenging of life experiences. This is not a book for the medical discussions you will be having at this time, but in Everyday Strength, you will find the lower-level, everyday things you can do to become more nourished from the food you eat so that you feel better and more optimistic.  In short, we offer many small things that can make a difference and make each day a little brighter.

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Iain McKenzie Iain McKenzie is a Director of NZ Booklovers, and is the person to contact about the products we offer on our shop. He is also the Publisher for McKenzie Publishing. An avid book lover, Iain reads hundreds of books every year, and especially enjoys well-written and engaging fiction, as well as lifestyle and cook books.

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