From running a commercial kitchen whipping up mouthwatering cuisines to conducting healthy cooking classes, Geeta Lachmandas-Jayabalan exudes such grace, positivity and enthusiasm in all she does.
One would never imagine that Geeta has braved through a disease that most women would dread. You’ll be amazed at how she views life and has since made a remarkable comeback. Behind her petite frame is a woman of strength, passion and creativity. Read on to hear her inspiring story.
1. You’re an entrepreneur-cum-chef as well as a breast cancer survivor. Share with us how did you discover that you had breast cancer?
I was busy with my cooking school and had not gone for a mammogram in 3 years. When the commercial kitchen opened, it was an intense 1 year, engrossed in getting the business up and running. When I then went for my routine check-up, I soon learnt that I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. I am so thankful that I had a comprehensive insurance plan in place which afforded me the best treatments and drugs available.
2. How did you cope with the news? Who or what kept you moving forward?
For me, I saw being diagnosed with breast cancer as a small glitch
not like it was the end of the world.
So, I wanted to finish my treatments as soon as I could and move on with life. I went into this asking myself “What is the message here?”. It never crossed my mind to wallow in self-pity or ask “Why was I afflicted with cancer?”. I believe adopting this different and positive mindset enabled me to learn so much throughout my journey.
My oncologist, Dr Ang Peng Tiam, a renowned oncologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore also observed my positive attitude and reassured me that I would make it through all the treatment cycles and eventually the reconstruction surgery I underwent. I encourage you to check out Breast Reconstruction Awareness Singapore (BRAS), a support group aimed at helping women going through this what can be an overwhelming process.
3. If you don’t mind, tell us a bit more of your breast cancer treatment journey? How did you manage the changes you faced?
It wasn’t a bed of roses. Some of the changes I experienced was that I became prone to ulcers due to the intense treatment. I had a reduced sense of taste and thus, my appetite was affected and then of course, weight loss ensued. My fingernails and toenails began falling off and that’s where I began applying oils and soon I saw them growing beautifully again!
That’s also when I became even more diligent in increasing my knowledge and gradually move towards healthy eating and cooking for cancer patients.
Having to complete chemotherapy, hair loss was inevitable. I saw it as an opportunity to learn scarf tying. I learnt the various styles from side knots to front knots and began styling my outfits to match my scarves. During a trip to Dubai, I even received comments from the local ladies on how lovely I looked. My scarves collection began to grow with more cotton, colourful scarves filling up my wardrobe.
I have since conducted Knots of Hope, a scarf tying class for breast cancer survivors in partnership with CanHOPE. Losing their crowning glory is often tough for many women as it affects their self-image. Through this class, I reassure the women that they can still look beautiful and share with them how to care for themselves through scarf tying so they can be comfortable and confident beauties.
Another side effect I also experienced was poor circulation in my legs and my friends encouraged me to go for flamenco. Going for dance classes was very socially engaging as I found new friendships and even met chefs!
4. Tell us a bit more of who Geeta Lachmandas - Jayabalan is.
My roles have changed over time, from a working mother with three lovely daughters to an innovator, educator and facilitator and soon-to-be health coach. I am wholeheartedly committed to be a lifelong learner.
5. You’ve just returned from conducting a healthy cooking class in Singapore. Share with us, what inspired you to eat clean and how did you foray into culinary education?
As a real foodie, I was into various cuisines and started a cooking school called Culinary Capers with a focus on modern cuisines. To be very honest, I only started cooking after tying the knot. As a trained lawyer, my mother and my friends were pleasantly surprised when they found out that I was now cooking up a storm in the kitchen! I enjoyed teaching, cooking and serving guests with good food. Both my husband and I love entertaining, so needless to say, we loved to wine and dine.
However, I was tipping the scales more than desired. Soon, the time came when I wanted to lose weight but I wanted to do it without compromising on taste. I then began thinking of more ways to be healthy and eat clean. Thus, my research began. I then discovered the types of food that weren’t good for my body.
This was how I took an interest in wholegrains and wholefoods. I began experimenting with recipes and started teaching others about wholegrains. I soon found myself reinventing favourite dishes, forging ahead as a forerunner in healthy cooking back in 2012! I cooked, catered and conducted a series of classes called the ‘Healthy Cooking and Living’ with an emphasis on holistic living. Today I remain a firm believer of eating natural, whole and unprocessed foods. That’s why, one of the things I always share with my class participants is to stay away from these 3 poisons – white flour, white sugar and milk.
Through what I call divine grace, in 2015, I was connected to a friend’s friend and given a commercial kitchen in Bukit Bintang to work in. As it turned out, mid-2015, I had to close my kitchen and focus on getting well. Fast forward, I’m now back in action and have been kept on my toes conducting classes both in KL and across the Causeway.
I would typically teach 4 to 6 recipes to my class participants over 3 to 4 hours, taking them through appetisers, main course and desserts so that at the end of the class, they themselves would be able to entertain guests with healthy and wholesome meals.
A recent class I organised in KL was a Stress Busting Cooking class. I also now partner with CanHOPE, a non-profit cancer counselling and support service provided by Parkway Cancer Centre, Singapore. I recently held a ‘Cook Your Way To Health’ class with a group of over 50 wonderful ladies at a culinary destination, Tools Of The Trade (ToTT) and it was a resounding success! I also conduct private classes for different groups and it has been an absolute pleasure to meet with these ladies and share my knowledge and passion with them. So much camaraderie fills the room each time as the ladies stay back to mingle and savour the dishes!
6. How has your journey as an entrepreneur-cum-chef been so far? What has been some of your joys and challenges?
I am so thankful to have experienced many joys through a variety of things I have been involved in. Food has become a big motivator for me. Besides having the joy of conducting culinary classes for various groups, another highlight is having my dips and salads and lunch boxes featured on The Yum List, a widely-read food blog.
Of course, no journey is without its challenges. On hindsight, I’m glad to say that all those trying periods and rocky paths prepared me for the road ahead.
7. We also hear that you’re pursuing a 1-year intensive course at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), a leading institute in New York. You’re remarkable, Geeta! How has the course been so far?
It has been exciting, learning from the best, alongside 1800 course mates from around the world. I have successfully completed 10 modules and recently sat for my examination. I love the course as it takes a holistic approach to healthy living as a whole and not just nutrition. The emphasis is that your lifestyle is primary and nutrition is secondary. It has helped me keep abreast of the latest trends and findings in the health arena. In addition to healthcare professionals, health coaches are now in demand in the US in dealing with the myriad and magnitude of diseases and will be the future for us in Asia fast forward in a few years’ time. I’m really glad that I moved along with my intuition to enroll in this course. It has given me the opportunity to innovate myself in different ways.
8. With a hectic schedule, how do you sustain your energy levels and how do you juggle between cooking classes, workshops, studies and time for yourself and family? What do you do to relax and unwind?
I must admit that it is a struggle at times and there are days when I have to burn the midnight oil.
I used to go for bootcamp before being diagnosed with cancer. Now I continue to keep myself active - I play badminton, go for salsa dancing, do cardio workouts and yoga. I particularly make sure I do regular strength training. I always believe that your thoughts affect your actions.
At my age, I tell myself, “I can do this!” and you know what, I can!
So don’t let age or your health condition get the better of you.
There was a point in my life when I was going through a career change, I became depressed. That was also when my quest for self-discovery and personal development began. I started meditation and found it very useful as a holistic therapy. As such, meditation has become an integral part of my life.
9. You look stunning! What’s your secret?
Meditation has given me a deep sense of calm. I’m also inclined towards using natural ingredients like argan oil for my hair and grapeseed oil for both my skin and hair. And I’m a huge fan of virgin coconut oil!
When I recently fell ill and was down with a sore throat, essential oils came to my rescue! I used a drop of pure oregano essential oil along with 3 to 4 drops of lemon essential oil and did a gargle every hour. I started feeling better as the day went by!
10. In closing, what would you say to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are going through a tough time? Any advice for their caregivers or close friends?
Know that it is not the end of the world. It is only a small glitch. Your mindset plays an important role. Dr Ang, my oncologist tells me that going through cancer is 80% attitude and 20% treatment and I agree with him.
Coach, mentor and author, Heather Plett talks about creating holding space.
She describes holding space as what we do when “we are willing to
walk alongside another in whatever journey they’re on, without judging them,
making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome.”
When we carry this thought and attitude with us, it fills you with compassion as you care for a loved one or friend fighting cancer. Just be there to lend your support and refrain from imposing or being judgmental.
Thank you very much, Geeta for your time and sharing your journey with us, we so appreciate you. You’re an inspiration, Geeta! We at PurelyB wish you all the very best in all your endeavours, keep shining!