Hearing the words “you have cancer” is life changing. There can be so many questions: “Why me?”; “Did I do something to cause my cancer?”; “How is my cancer diagnosis going to affect me and my family?”; “Is there anything I can do to help fight my cancer?” And sometimes the words can be so overwhelming that people do not even know what questions to ask.
In my role at the Saint Alphonsus Cancer Care Center, I hear these questions every day. In particular — as an outpatient registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) at our center — I am asked what can be done with diet and nutrition to help treat their disease.
Nutrition and diet advice can come from a variety of sources. In an effort to treat their cancer or to relieve their symptoms and side effects, I observe patients looking for and receiving information from family, friends, their physicians and their cancer care team as well the internet.
I also see patients sometimes frustrated or unsure about conventional treatment seeking other options and avenues of care, which could include the use of vitamins or herbal and dietary supplements. While many of these therapies can be helpful to well-being and recovery, some products or regimens could possibly interact with planned treatment or even make side effects and symptoms more troublesome.
So please, if you are taking certain products, thinking about adding a new supplement or following a new dietary regimen during cancer treatment, it is important to keep your cancer care team informed.
But what about the key question: “Can diet and what you eat help in your fight against cancer?” The answer is yes!
I encourage patients to seek out the RDN at their cancer center for help and guidance on how healthy eating can help fuel recovery, manage side effects and keep your body strong while undergoing cancer treatment.
Bringing your nutrition and diet-related concerns and questions forward to your cancer care team is important. Most cancer centers have dietitians on staff to help patients. Good nutrition, being active and staying hydrated while undergoing cancer treatment do matter.
Working one-on-one with the RDN can help to individualize information for your needs and situation. Healthy eating is also a very important part of your cancer survivorship in helping to improve well-being and decrease the risk for your cancer coming back.
Eating well does not mean that you need to be a perfect eater or that you have to prepare fancy food or gourmet meals. Eating well means selecting a variety of nutritious food each day to help keep your body healthy.
Every day, try to:
▪ Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day.
▪ Eat a “rainbow” a day by including an array of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet.
▪ Include good sources of protein — including plant-based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans and peas.
▪ Drink plenty of water and other hydrating fluids.
▪ As you are able, be physically active.
▪ Strive to obtain and maintain your weight during treatment.
Suggestions for healthy eating throughout your cancer journey:
▪ Talk with your family and friends about ways they can help with shopping and making meals and snacks. Sometimes it is difficult, but ask for help!
▪ Try to keep your cupboards and refrigerator stocked with foods and snacks so you have ready-to-eat things on hand for times when you are not feeling as well.
▪ Plan ahead by cooking in advance and freezing foods in meal-sized portions.
▪ Do not be afraid to try new foods, especially if favorite foods are tasting different or unpleasant.
▪ If you are having a hard time eating, don’t have an appetite or are experiencing side effects impacting your well-being — ask your cancer care team for help!
Barbara L. Grant is an outpatient registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) at the Saint Alphonsus Cancer Care Centers in Boise and Caldwell.