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Emma B's story

Eating habits that boost my energy

Emma, 39, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2015. She had three years of chemotherapy treatment.

Emma, 39, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2015. She had three years of chemotherapy treatment.


When I found out I had cancer, I had to change my attitude to eating. With the amount of chemotherapy I was having, there was a risk I could lose a lot of weight – so I was encouraged to eat anything I wanted, when I wanted.

A dietitian gave me advice about getting extra calories, including eating proteins and adding butter and cream to my food.

I had build-up drinks and mixed them with ice cream. Some people hate them, but I quite enjoyed them. They’re a bit like milkshakes!

Giving my body what it needed

I was also constipated a lot, so I introduced more fibre into my diet. I got tips off the nurses, and it was trial and error. I tried prune juice, fresh figs, apples and potatoes with their skins on. I learnt that broccoli was really effective!

I was depleted in a lot of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. I was low on potassium, so I made sure I had plenty of bananas and tomatoes in my diet.

I drank at least two litres of water every day. It’s become second nature now, plus I’ve got a refillable water bottle that helps me keep track of what I’m drinking.

Keeping things simple

Smoothies were great if I couldn’t cope with the bitterness of fruit or was too tired to chew. I would get a load of frozen fruit and sometimes add spinach or peanut butter. That was a good breakfast option and a way to get those calories in.

I also made things as convenient as possible. Why put a pan on when you can just put your broccoli in the microwave and steam it?

My favourite cookbook was Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients because it’s so simple. We’d usually have at least a couple of the ingredients in the cupboard already.

If I was preparing a meal when I was tired, I would sit and chop veg at the dining table, so I didn’t waste energy standing up. This was my little way of helping my partner Nathan, as he did so much for me during treatment.

Changing tastes

I went off tea, coffee and sugary foods – I just didn’t fancy them. But I really craved savoury stuff.  

The nausea was there quite a lot, but I tried to eat something even if I felt sick. It would normally settle it down a little bit.

I was lucky that Nathan would cook for us. Even if I didn’t have the energy or desire to eat, if he made us something and put it in front of me, I could pick away at it.

I also had mucositis, which made it difficult to put anything in my mouth, never mind swallow it. Smoothies came in handy, and pineapple was also soothing.

Coping with the emotions

I’m a bit of a foodie, so if I couldn’t eat, I did feel it. When I felt down, I allowed myself to wallow for a bit and then coaxed myself out of it. I’d give myself a shake and think, “What can I do to change this mindset and feel better?”

Sometimes seeing Nathan struggle with it pulled me out of it, because I thought, “OK, he’s struggling, I’ve got to throw him a bone.”

Eating for energy

Having a routine really helps me – not eating too late in the evening, controlling my portion sizes and eating till I’m just comfortable. Three meals a day suits my routine or, if I feel sluggish, I’ll have a healthy snack – an apple, a banana or some nuts. I buy a big tub of fruit and nut and put a little handful in a box to graze on.

I keep my energy levels up by making sure I have a proper breakfast – usually eggs, porridge, or peanut butter and banana on toast. These give me a slow release of energy.

Finding a balance

I finished treatment 12 months ago and have got a more balanced approach to eating now. Nothing’s off the table – it’s all about having everything in moderation.

When I eat, I try to think about the nutritional value of the meal. What am I getting out of it? Has it got plenty of protein in it? Has it got plenty of nutrients? But I still take a relaxed approach when it suits me – I had a pizza last night!

Janssen-Cilag Ltd has supported Blood Cancer UK with funding for the production of this web page and others within the ‘Living well’ section. It had no influence over the content.

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