When author and former Paris resident, Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen was first diagnosed with cancer, she was far away from home, some 3,626 miles to be exact. She’d lived in Paris for over 15 years, her adopted home, until a new opportunity prompted her family to move back the the United States. However, just ten days into her transatlantic move and new job back home, the married, mother of three received some devastating news: her breast cancer was advanced and she needed to seek treatment immediately.
In her latest book, “From Paris with Love: A Personal and Supportive Guide to Breast Cancer“, Lalisse-Jespersen recounts her journey from diagnosis to remission, and offers up some supportive advice for those embarking on their own health journeys. She took time out to speak with Simply Souperlicious’ Souper-in-Chief, Carolyn Moncel to discuss food, nutrition and self-care.
CM: Let’s talk about the title of the book. You had been living in France for many years. Can you share a bit about your life living there? What did you love about it and what did you dislike about it?
PLJ: Yes, I lived in Paris for almost 16 years. When I moved there, I thought I’d stay four or five years but that turned into a lot longer. Paris is such a special place for me. There’s just something about it that moves and inspires me, especially when it comes to creativity. That’s one of the things I love about it. As far as things to dislike? There aren’t too many, but one difference is that administrative things can be more challenging and take longer than in the United States. Other than that, Paris is an awesome place, and I can’t wait to get back.
CM: One of the better parts of living in France, is the access to local markets, mostly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Did you and your family visit them often?
PLJ: Yes, absolutely. There’s nothing quite like shopping at Parisian markets. They’re the best for fresh produce, meats, cheeses, seafood, flowers, chocolate and everything in between. Our favorites are the ones on Rue Levis in the 8th arrondisement, and Rues Poncelet and Bayen in the 17th at Place de Ternes.
CM: When you returned to the US, did your eating habits change in any way (due to cancer or not). If so, how and why do you think?
PLJ: In France I ate healthy foods about 90% of the time. Unfortunately, things changed when I got back to the U.S. I got into the easy way of doing things—going through drive-thru windows, pizza days at work and getting quick fixes. I was also getting fast food that I hadn’t had access to in Paris, like Chick-Fil-A, a family favorite. And, I ate some of that when going through cancer treatment because I needed those pick-me-ups. But, during the course of having this terrible disease, I learned a lot about healthy eating and how that affects our bodies. I learned how certain ingredients like turmeric, onions and garlic can have a positive impact on our health, especially when it comes to cancer.
CM: A very cool point to mention is that your husband, Michael is a chef. Does he handle the cooking at home or do you take over?
PLJ: HA! He won’t let me in the kitchen. Just kidding, he does, but I am way too intimidated to do more than boil pasta or make scrambled eggs. He was trained in France, Denmark and the Netherlands and is such a fantastic chef. On top of that, he’s very conscientious when it comes to healthy eating and good home-cooked meals.
CM: Before your initial cancer diagnosis, how were your eating habits? Good, bad, meh?
PLJ: I moved to France from Manhattan, where I worked as an editor and ate off and on all day. I basically lived on tacos because there was an excellent Mexican restaurant near my apartment. There’s nothing wrong with tacos—I still love them, but I wasn’t eating veggies, whole grains or a lot of fruit at the time.
Once I got to France, it wasn’t long before I got into the French habit of eating really healthy foods and at scheduled mealtimes only. I cut out all the chips and cokes and began drinking lots of water, and exercising, too. It’s a cultural thing in France and it begins early on.
CM: Upon your diagnosis, how did your eating habits change?
PLJ: Once I knew how certain things could affect me, I made a decision to cut down on those and privilege the things that could actually help me. So, I went back to eating lots of fruit and vegetables, as we were doing in France and I upped my water intake. I started researching and reading books on cancer, fighting cancer, recurrence and the link with food. Books like Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen, Eating Well Through Cancer, and Eating for Health are extremely insightful.
CM: You went through many rounds of treatment. What role did food – particularly fruits and vegetables play in your self-care regime?
PLJ: In the beginning I did whatever was comfortable and helpful to get me through the treatments, which means, if I needed a Whopper, I got one. If I wanted BBQ, I got it. There are things that you can and can’t eat when you’re going through chemotherapy—and it all depends on the person. For example, I use to love frozen yogurt and I ate it during chemotherapy until I grew a strong aversion to it. Sometimes the food you eat during this time becomes your most hated food afterwards. In addition, my taste buds were dead when I underwent chemotherapy, so I had to eat really spicy foods in order to taste them. As I completed my treatment and got better and stronger, I knew that it was vital that I got back to a healthy regime, and fruits and vegetables were foremost on my list. Research has shown that diet and exercise play a key role in our overall health and can prevent cancer recurrence.
CM: As you have children at home, how has food selection and preparation changed for them?
PLJ: We are trying to teach them healthy eating habits. They’re just kids and they want to eat what their classmates are eating sometimes, but we try to limit our fast-food intake. We encourage water and exercise. And my husband is very big on educating them on food—where it comes from, how to grow it, why we need to eat certain things, while avoiding others. Thanks to him, they are not shy when it comes to trying new things. He makes French, Danish, and Asian food for example, on a regular basis. Their palettes are very well developed. Luckily, they favor healthy eating and ask for more of certain things like water or salads. We do have one “candy monster” in the family, but only one.
CM: There are many women and men currently navigating their way through breast cancer, what’s the one piece of advice that you would give to them?
PLJ: Take one treatment at a time; take one doctor’s visit at a time; take one day at a time. Go easy on yourself and allow yourself time and grace. You won’t be able to take on everything at once, so just take on what you can. And in the words of former ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott, who inspires me so much, ‘Live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.’
Order your copy of From Paris With Love from Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen’s website.