Home cooking provides a tonic for patients and their magic band disney pricerelatives

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Relatives of cancer patients cook in an outdoor kitchen, which charges 1 yuan (16 cents) per dish near Jiangxi Tumor Hospital in Nanchang, Jiangxi province. Hu Chenhuan / Xinhua

A small kitchen near a hospital in Jiangxi province brings succor to people with end-stage cancer, as Wang Ruoyao and Hu Chenhuan report for Xinhua China Features.

For several months, Li Jia took care of her mother who was hospitalized in the final stages of cancer. Cooking soup in a communal kitchen gave Li a few moments of relative peace and normality.

"The act of cooking is part of an ordinary, quiet life," said the 18-year-old, who dropped out of high school and travelled with her mother from Wan"an county, Jiangxi province, to Nanchang, the capital.

Nearly every day, Li cooked soup, the only dish her mother could eat, in an outdoor kitchen tucked away in a shantytown just a few meters from Jiangxi Tumor Hospital, which is one of the best in the province.

Like Li, many patients" relatives use the communal kitchen, believing home-cooked food is the best way to care for their loved ones and also because it is cheaper than the food sold in the hospital.

As many patients have travelled long distances for the best care, their relatives sleep in their hospital room or in local hotels that are cheap, but lack cooking facilities.

In China, cancer can ruin an average family financially because medical insurance only covers a fraction of their treatment costs.

On average, every minute of last year saw 8.2 people in China diagnosed with cancer, while 5.4 people died from the disease.

Given the circumstances, the kitchen is a blessing for cash-strapped relatives, who provide their own ingredients and pay 1 yuan (16 cents) per dish to use the facilities.

Nearly 150,000 dishes have been cooked on the kitchen"s five stoves since it opened in 2003, according to owners Wan Zuocheng and his wife Xiong Gengxiang.

Last meal

When Wan and Xiong set up the kitchen they just sold fried dough sticks, known as youtiao, a popular breakfast food in China.

"One day, the family of an inpatient at the hospital asked to use our stove, so we agreed. Then, more families came. We only charge them enough to cover the cost of fuel and water," said Wan, who is in his 60s. The couple still makes most of their income by selling youtiao.

The heart-wrenching part of running the kitchen is saying goodbye.

One chilly evening in January, Li cooked soup at the kitchen for the last time before heading home with her mother, who had been discharged from the hospital after the doctors said there was nothing more they could do for her.

Li carried the bowl of soup to her mother"s bedside at a budget hotel near the kitchen, followed by Wan and Xiong and the families of other cancer patients, who came to bid them farewell.

As she tasted the broth through her feeding tube, Li"s mother smiled.

The last thing the Wan and Xiong want to see is someone who usually cooks light soup and vegetables switch to preparing meat dishes, because many people make their family member"s favorite foods for their last few meals.

Wan recalled a woman in her 50s who suddenly cooked her sick husband stewed fish and roast duck. "The next morning, she told me that he had been too weak to take a bite. All the food went into the trash," he said.

Three days later, the woman stopped showing up.

Comfort and strength

Cooking brings comfort and strength to family members who are far from home.

"People often sympathize with us, but we don"t need that," said a man in his 40s, who preferred not to give his name. "We are all in similar situations here and often meet up. We understand each other and feel like family."

Xiong recalled one patient who loved cooking dumplings. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and did not have a family member to care for her in the hospital.

"She said families eat dumplings to celebrate Spring Festival, and that was why she loved them," Xiong said.

She and Wan take time to comfort the family members who come to use the kitchen, especially during their first visits.

"When one 30-year-old woman first came here, she was too sad to hold a knife. My wife listened and talked with her. After a while, she could finally slice a turnip," Wan said.

In the couple"s bedroom next to the kitchen, handwritten telephone numbers cover the wall.

"The relatives hope we can visit them someday. They said that if we do, they will cook for us in their own kitchens," Wan said.

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