TO hear him chuckling you wouldn’t think that less than two years ago Simon was battling bowel cancer.

If that hadn’t been enough, he was also given just 18 months to live, after doctors thought he had contracted a rare form of the disease.

With two operations and 18 stints of chemotherapy under his belt things weren’t looking good.

And then along came Penny.

A smooth-talking Canadian blonde who swept Simon off his feet as they exchanged longing looks over a pint of Guinness at his local.

Now, after being given the 18-months all-clear, he thanks his partner of three years for giving him a new lease of life and well-refined tastebuds after she wrote a chemotherapy-inspired cookbook aimed at people just like him.

“When I met Simon he was already in chemotherapy,” Penny said. “He’d had his first operation and he was in his first tour of chemo. So I didn’t know what I was taking on actually.”

Fortunately Penny had some dealings with cancer already and so was able to empathise with Simon’s ordeal.

“I wasn’t diagnosed with full blown breast cancer but I had precancerous treatment that lasted four years and it was just monitored closely. So basically I was caught before it ever blossomed into anything. I was one of the lucky ones because if it had got it would have seriously gone bad.”

For Simon Hawkins and his wife Penny Ericson, who live in Streatham Park in Micheldever with their two cats, Ava and Zsa Zsa Gabor, the magic is kept very much alive in their relationship.

When asked how long they’ve been married, Simon said: “Since 1848 isn’t it? No, we got married on September 2 2011. It seems a lot longer!”

Penny was approached to write Around the Kitchen Table following the success of her first book, Chemo Cookery Club.

“There was a lot of information and advice that was available but none of it, to me, was really practical and accessible. There were a lot of opinions if you like; you shouldn’t have dairy you shouldn’t have sugar, you shouldn’t drink alcohol, you shouldn’t eat red meat, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that but that’s how we live when we are healthy.

“It’s about how we find the nutritional value in everyday food and where something as simple as beans on toast can actually be really beneficial.”

Penny sought help from RHCH senior research dietician, Barbara Parry, who said she was impressed with Penny’s knowledge.

Barbara said: “[Penny] was very keen to try and make the nutrition information as accessible as possible, not just opinion but nutrition scientific evidence as well.”

“It has a guide at the top of every recipe that gives an indication as to whether it is very easy to prepare or moderately easy to prepare and it’s also a resource that’s not actually just for people going through cancer treatment; it’s for their family and friends. It really focuses, as the title implies, on the social role that food can play and how important it is to feel that when you are undergoing the specialist treatment.”

The book boasts traditional warming recipes such as creamy spice butternut soup, but also contains somewhat lesser-known ones such as the wild mushroom cappuccino. Whatever you fancy, there’s something for everyone.

Penny said: “I’ll tell you one of them that I really love is the carrot and orange Moroccan salad. It’s dead easy to make and it’s beautiful to look at and it’s packed with flavour.”

And for Simon? “My favourite of course is called Simon’s Pie, inevitably.”