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D.C. mom fights cancer with a cookbook

Friday - 9/28/2012, 5:15am  ET

Fabien_and_Danielle_today.jpeg
Danielle Cook Navidi, author of 'Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer,' is shown with her son Fabien Navidi-Kasmai, who beat cancer. (Courtesy of Danielle Cook Navidi)
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Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - She helped her child successfully battle cancer with love, determination ... and a blender.

Now, the experience has inspired D.C. mom Danielle Cook Navidi to help others in a unique but powerful way.

When then 11-year-old Fabien Navidi-Kasmai was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2004, Navidi was shocked. This was a child who'd never been sick.

"It was a nightmare," Navidi recalls.

There were months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. Fabien's appetite came and went. There were waves of nausea and chemo played havoc on his tastebuds.

Navidi, an accomplished cook, desperately wanted to nourish her son -- body and soul. She started work on a master's degree in holistic nutrition, and began to develop recipes that were easy for Fabien to digest yet packed with the nutrients he needed to regain strength.

Along the way she shared her knowledge with other families fighting cancer at MedStar Georgetown.

"I began as a volunteer, just bringing my blender, and making smoothies," says Navidi.

Two years ago, her project expanded when the pediatric oncology department received a grant from Hyundai Corp. to teach kids with cancer and their families about healthy eating.

Now, Navidi is the proud author of a cookbook called "Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer." It mixes recipes with pictures and stories from some of the children she's worked with at the hospital.

Devon Tatlow, 6, of D.C. battled leukemia. Now in remission, he makes a mean smoothie and says he wants to be a chef, "because I like eating the food that cooks make."

Devon stands side-by-side at a cooking demonstration with 16-year-old Ashley Green from Columbia Heights who, like Fabien, underwent treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Green says the most important thing she's learned from Navidi is, "how important nutrition -- food -- is for kids with cancer."

She's also realized, for her, cooking is "a way to meditate ... to ease your mind off things."

Those certainly are lessons Navidi has passed on to her three children. She's proud to say that when Fabien headed off to college this fall, he had a guitar in one hand and a juicer in the other.

Once a frail kid battling cancer, Fabien is now an avid mountain biker with plans to compete in an Ironman Triathlon.

On a visit to Georgetown Hospital to launch his mom's book, Fabien gazes at the familiar halls of the pediatric cancer wing and admits it felt a little strange to return to the place where he successfully battled a dangerous disease.

"It is like everything comes full circle," says Fabien.

"I get to come back and it is like everything we have gone through and everything that has happened in the last eight to 10 years has come together."

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"Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer" is available from major booksellers and at the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital gift shop. All proceeds go to the pediatric cancer nutrition program at MedStar Georgetown.

Here is a recipe from the book, published with permission:

Purple Power Smoothie

1/2 banana

1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

1/2 cut acai-blueberry juice

1/4 cup soft silken tofu

1/4 cup plain or vanilla soy milk

squeeze of lemon juice, to taste agave nectar, to taste

Process all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Makes 1 (17 oz.) smoothie.

Learn more about "Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer" here.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)