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Taking care of business

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Alicia Sable-Hunt

Taking a Bite Out of Cancer

Alicia Sable-Hunt is consumed by cancer. Not in the physical sense, mind you, but emotionally, spiritually and vocationally, her life revolves around the cancer community. When she’s not working as the Director of Clinical Operations and Communication at Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute in San Carlos, Calif., she’s fulfilling her duties as president of Sable’s Foods, a company she founded that produces “nutritional empowerment” bars specifically for cancer patients. “They fulfill the critical need for nourishing, easy-to-eat, flavorful food at a time when someone has next to no desire to eat at all,” says Sable-Hunt.

There’s no dramatic backstory that ties her to cancer—nobody among her friends and family has it. But a rotation in oncology—one of a slew of specialties she experienced early in her career—resonated, so she doubled back to it. “We have to band together to help these patients,” says Sable-Hunt, who wonders why more than 30 years after we first put a man on the moon, women are still dying of breast cancer. “There’s something wrong with that picture.” She’s doing her part—and then some—to change that.

While working with cancer patients in a community setting, a conversation with a patient sparked an idea that led to the creation of sablesfoods.com. Chemo had left the patient with a mouthful of sores and chronic nausea. She told Sable-Hunt she couldn’t even muster the appetite to nibble on a sports bar, which she’d always loved as an athlete. “I was giving her my spiel about how important it was that she maintain her weight,” says Sable-Hunt, who suggested she try mixing Ensure in the blender with some fruit. “This beautiful young woman said, ‘I’m not going to walk around with Ensure—isn’t it bad enough I’ve lost my hair?’”

Although she wasn’t a fan of energy bars herself, Sable-Hunt wondered if she could create one that cancer patients might want to eat, dry mouth and all. “It was crazy, totally arrogant and stupid. I knew nothing about the food industry, and as my family will attest, all I could make at that time was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” Still, she went to the grocery store in search of anything she thought might be tasty and nutritious. She brought the ingredients home, mixed them up, shaped the bars and popped them in the oven. They were inedible. “Did you know that nutrition bars are not baked?” she asks rhetorically.

But she forged ahead, experimenting with ingredients (like applesauce for moistness), consulting foodie friends for advice and, finally, after one too many bad batches, hiring a professional baker. Together they created Summer Berry and Tropical Fruit, which won the seal of approval from her patients—and launched her second career.

It’s difficult to imagine that between her nursing job and Sable’s Foods, this one-woman band still found time (to say nothing of the energy!) to earn an MBA. Her thesis was a marketing plan for Sable’s Foods involving nutrition bars for cancer patients.

Now that Sable-Hunt has graduated from experiments in her home kitchen to production in a manufacturing plant, she hopes to expand her company’s offerings with more bars, soups, stews and fruit-and-nut breads. “It’s a snowball that went down the hill and just got bigger and bigger.”

While she freely admits that her life lacks balance—she’s single, has no children and every waking hour of every day revolves around the cancer community—Sable-Hunt is content. “I am a very spiritual woman and I truly believe I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

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Catherine Ettlinger
Catherine Ettlinger is former editor-in-chief of Elle magazine as well as editor of Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Mademoiselle. She is the author of the hit blog the Unconfidential Cook which has already won the Honest Scrap Award. A compilation of recipes filtered through friends and family over the years, this foodie blog is chock full of photos and sage cooking advice for dinners at home, hosting parties and even homemade treats for your pet! The Unconfidential Cook is a winner of the Honest Scrap Award.

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