Sadly, one in five cancer deaths can be linked directly to malnutrition. Families battling cancer can be so exhausted from the intense treatments that food often is the last thing on their minds. “Chemo days were so stressful,” says Carolyn Nugent, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33. “My mother, boyfriend and I would rush around, choking down fast food in waiting rooms.”
One day, Nugent’s chemotherapy nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital gave her a flyer for Culinary Care, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that delivers complimentary restaurant meals to cancer patients. When Nugent signed up, she was surprised to get an almost immediate response. Not only did Culinary Care offer her one meal, but two, for herself and her caregivers. “I cried. I felt such a sense of relief. I actually had something to look forward to while in chemo.”
Courtney White, a Wilmette native, founded Culinary Care in 2013 in honor of her late father, Berry White, who passed away from lung cancer in 2006. White remembers fondly the meals her mother’s friends and family delivered that intense summer her father went through treatment. “Without them, I really can’t imagine what it would have been like,” White says.
After graduating college, White wanted to give back to the cancer community. When she couldn’t identify an organization in the Chicago area that provided meals to cancer patients, she decided to create one. She was just 23 years old.
Now two years in, Culinary Care has delivered over 2,000 meals to families facing cancer. Partner organizations recommend patients who need it most, and then Culinary Care verifies dietary needs and provides recommendations from top-notch restaurants, such as RPM, Hub 51, Maggiano’s and Wildfire.
Getting excited about eating is so important for cancer patients as taste buds change and food cravings diminish. Facilitating a palate helps ensure proper nutrition. “No one’s going to turn down a meal from RPM,” White says. “It will look and taste amazing.”
“For a moment, I forgot I was hooked up to a medicine drip pouring toxins into my body to kill off cancer,” Nugent says. “Enjoying a really nice meal with friends and family was truly priceless.”
Culinary Care knows that caregivers battle alongside patients. “The last year of my husband’s life, I lost 20 lbs,” says Joan O’Neill of Wilmette. When her husband fought bone cancer, she was so concerned about caring for him that she didn’t nourish herself. She is thankful to the friends who helped sustain her. Today she wants to make sure people are aware of Culinary Care and the wonderful work they do for people in need.
“Providing meals for families is nutritiously and emotionally supportive,” O’Neill says. Nugent confirms that one of the best things about Culinary Care is that they showed they genuinely did care. “They wanted to make the cancer battle less of a daily challenge,” Nugent says. “They have succeeded far more than they know.”
O’Neill and her family are generously underwriting a Culinary Care event on Friday, May 15th at 27 Live in Evanston (1012 Church Street from 7 to 11 p.m.). Enjoy live music, dancing, delicious appetizers and a cash bar while learning more about Culinary Care. Space is limited so please RSVP to this FREE event.
Dress casual and be ready for a good time!
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