Jayne Dyas worked for the British Growers Association for nearly three decades, including many years working alongside Britain’s salad growers and watercress farmers. She witnessed the resurgence in popularity of watercress and heard about the research looking into how the compound PEITC, which occurs naturally in high levels in watercress, has cancer fighting properties. Sadly this research took on a more personal note when Jayne discovered she was suffering from Non Hodgkin Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. However, refusing to give in to the disease, she volunteered as a Watercress Ambassador to monitor the effects of eating watercress while also being treated with conventional methods. Here is what she found out:
A New Career Cut Temporarily Short
My Non Hodgkin Lymphoma story starts in May 2018 when I left the British Growers Association after 28 years of working with fresh produce crop associations. I had reluctantly resigned from my job as I had thoroughly enjoyed working with vegetable and salad growers, who are so innovative and market led. As an Agricultural and Food Marketing graduate the job allowed me to use my degree to its maximum extent. However, the travelling and ever increasing work load left me feeling constantly tired so I decided that I needed to change to a part time role that did not require extensive travel and evening work. (I now know that the reason for the tiredness was not just due to the job but my NHL.)
I decided to have a total change of career direction, and successfully secured a part time Teachers Assistant job at my local primary school, after 5 weeks as a volunteer in June and July, to commence as a salaried member of staff in September 2018. During the summer holidays I developed a lump in my neck. Eight scans and several biopsies later I was diagnosed with aggressive NHL. My prognosis was good; the aggressive lymphoma could be cured but I had probably had low grade NHL for many years and will continue to, but it can be managed so that I can lead a fairly normal life.
Having worked with the fresh produce industry for so many years, making so many friends, I decided to stay in touch by subscribing to the weekly Fresh Produce Journal email.
This was the source of The Watercress Company press release asking for Ambassadors for Watercress. I was determined that my 6 months of chemotherapy to treat my NHL would not pass without some achievements and so I contacted The Watercress Company and offered to be an ambassador.
Throughout my chemo journey I have received a bag of fresh watercress every 3 weeks and have developed many new cooking options using watercress. I had chemo, for a full day, every 3 weeks; the following 2 weeks I did not have much energy to do experimental cooking but the 3rd week of each cycle I was well enough to cook.
The main benefits of eating watercress during my chemo journey:
- Detox: my RCHOP chemo filled my body with unnatural chemicals to kill the Lymphoma cells and thus consumption of cruciferous vegetables is an ideal way of getting rid of those toxins. Drinking plenty of water was also vital to similarly reduce the toxins.
- Flavour: the toxins in the chemo treatments and the tablets/injections taken between the chemo sessions greatly affected my taste buds. Foods that I originally loved tasted vile, but throughout my journey I was able to eat watercress in its many formats. I really enjoyed the peppery taste with no harshness, unlike for example cups of tea which tasted of very strong tannins; hot water was my favourite drink!
- One of the side effects of the drugs you take between chemo sessions is constipation and thus a diet high in fibre is essential. Watercress, with its high fibre content, was a useful addition as it can be added to most meals in some format.
- Smell: during this time my sense of smell also changed in that I was unable to cope with some cooking odours such as bacon. It was a similar experience as to that when I was pregnant. Thankfully, the cooking of watercress is so short that there is no aroma unlike some cruciferous vegetables.
- Iron intake: as Lymphoma is a blood cancer, it is very important to keep the consumption of iron at a high level as the chemo damages the blood cells. Whilst red meat provides the quickest source of iron, fresh vegetables with a high iron content, like watercress, also supplement the diet in iron. A fillet steak served with a watercress salad was a frequent meal in our household.
- Quick and easy watercress soup, easy to freeze and tastes equally as good when defrosted.
- All salads benefit from a watercress component, as many leafy salads can be rather bland.
- Watercress added to mashed potato was a particularly easy way of consuming an extra veg, much enjoyed by children.
- Watercress and petit pois soup – this is really enjoyed by children as it is so sweet.
- Chicken in cider sauce with added watercress.
- Sausage frittata with added watercress (or try this hot smoked salmon frittata)
- Watercress, pear and brie soup. (Other cheeses work well too.)
So, the main things that I would recommend to anyone about to start a chemo journey are:
1. Stay in touch with your family and friends: they genuinely want to help you. A regular text, email, phone call, or visit for coffee on your good days, are needed to stay in touch with the real world and take your mind off your treatment.
2. Eat healthily: I had always had a diet high in fresh produce but it is even more important during chemo.
3. Take regular exercise: on your good days try and go for a short walk and on the days when you feel pretty low, still try to walk around the house, up and down the stairs. I found having a dog helped me immensely; having to take Milly, my labrador, for a walk in the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds helped ensure that I kept exercising.
I would like to thank everyone at The Watercress Company for sending me the produce throughout my chemo journey. It was greatly appreciated by my husband Phil and myself. Watercress will now be a regular on our shopping list as it is so versatile. We celebrated my last chemo therapy with a meal on St Valentine’s Day.
I will certainly ensure that watercress is included in the primary school food lessons in which I will be involved from the end of April this year, to help pass on the benefits of eating it.
You are more than welcome Jayne and delighted that watercress helped you through such a difficult time. Everyone at Love Watercress wishes you continued good health and the best of luck with your new career - we’d love to hear how you get on encouraging your primary school students to eat watercress!