How cookbooks are bringing Lifehouse together | Chris O'Brien Lifehouse
 In Inspiring Stories, Lifehouse News

Every year, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse receives incredible support from our community, mostly in the form of donations that sponsor specialist positions or fund much-needed equipment. They help us improve the service we provide to our patients and carry out essential research. Inevitably, they work to strengthen the Lifehouse community.

Head of physics research and education, Natalka Suchowerska, received quite a unique donation from a family who lost their beloved mother to cancer: a collection containing thousands of cookbooks.

In the years that she was ill, Maria Furjanic drew enormous amount of pleasure from buying and looking at cookery books. Maria sadly lost her life to cancer earlier this year. However, she left behind an astonishing collection of these books. The collection numbered in the thousands: many by famous chefs including Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Neil Perry; a huge amount of baking, cakes and chocolate books; and all the Australian favourites with the full Women’s Weekly collection for every season.

Some of the books contained recipes that were gold-starred by Maria, however, many were bought when she wasn’t sufficiently well to cook from them. Some of them are so new they’re still crisp on the edges.

“Many of them are just the most didactic, most beautiful books with cushioned covers”, says Natalka. “You don’t need to eat, you don’t need to bake, you just need to look at the pictures and they’re just beautiful.”

The family felt strongly moved to donate the books to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. They wanted something good to come from the collection, so they passed it on to Natalka, hoping that she could share the books with people to give them pleasure, but also to use them to raise funds for cancer research.

It took a couple of weekends for the family to transport all the books to the hospital.

“It was a huge amount of work, there are thousands of books,” says Natalka.

The collection now resides at VectorLAB,  a cancer research lab run in collaboration by Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and the University of Sydney. It has been carefully sorted by Natalka according to category and price. Staff and patients are welcome to visit VectorLAB to browse the collection or purchase the books, which is still substantial despite Natalka already having run a number of sales.

To Maria, these cookbooks represented much more than just recipes that could just as easily have been downloaded from the internet. They gave her great pleasure. Maria loved to leaf through them and plan dishes to bring delight to her family. This joy is now being shared throughout the hospital, as people take them home to do the same.

“One lady came in with her unwell daughter and brought cakes for our nurses. While she was waiting for her daughter’s results, she spent a few hours browsing the collection. You could see this was a therapy in itself.”

The cookbooks have benefitted numerous patients who come to look for ideas for healthy eating. Others have found simple recipes with only three or four ingredients, making it easy to cook for their families.

Something else lovely has come out of these books:  a kind of informal baking community. Whenever people have baked from the books, they have shared their creations with Natalka and other staff members. This has worked to bring people from all around the hospital together, crossing teams and disciplines and uniting them in the joy of sharing food with one another.

“I’ve shared biscuits with people I hadn’t even spoken to in the past,” she says.

In coming to look at the books, visitors have read the research posters on the walls and looked at the equipment in the VectorLAB. It is here that the books have acted as a catalyst for people to familiarise themselves and engage more with the exciting research undertaken by Natalka and her team.

“The books, the contents, they’ve had many different lives for different people; and they have brought benefits that I didn’t anticipate,” says Natalka.

Natalka has had the collection for approximately three months now and has managed to halve the stock, but there are still hundreds of books left. She is considering the possibility of having a permanent home for the collection or a trolley to take them around to patients in the hospital.

“People have said that books are dead… but these have something special and, especially for cooking, it’s really special to have a book. For multiple reasons; not only to cook some delightful meals, but there’s also the pleasure of looking for ideas and planning.”

To browse the library or purchase any of these books, email Natalka to arrange a time to visit VectorLAB.  All money raised will be used to fund the exciting research the team is carrying out in their pursuit to translate medical physics expertise into clinical practice.

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