This is not just about alternative therapies, like massage and meditation. It is about focusing one’s energy on the positive activities and their positive outcomes. Patients need to feel that they have a hand in their own treatment, beyond the sterile environment of the hospital.
In this section, you will read about
- Cooking and eating for a healthy mind and body
- Exercise benefits and which activities are most recommended
- You may have cancer but you are still beautiful: Skin and beauty care
- Slow it down: Yoga, meditation, and the benefits of being out in nature
- Pet therapy
Christine Contino RDN, CDN, CDE, has been providing nutrition education and counseling for over 20 years in both the clinical and private setting. Her private practice is based out of Port Jefferson Station and Holbrook.
FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
Everyone’s needs are individual, of course. However I do recommend consuming whole, fresh, clean and nutritious foods to provide well balanced meals. This includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, all with decreased fat and sodium.
PREPARE BEFORE STARTING TREATMENT
Is there anything you would suggest a patient do to prepare before starting treatment?
Hopefully the patient’s diet was healthy prior to diagnosis but if not – now is the time. If a patient consumes a healthy diet prior to treatment they will enter treatment with reserves to help them keep their strength, prevent tissue breakdown, help rebuild tissue and muscle, and help fight infection. Eating healthy and going into treatment well-nourished can also help decrease side effects and promote treatment to be more effective.
Prior to treatment, a patient should stock up on favorite foods and foods that may help with potential side effects such as nausea and diarrhea. Cook meals ahead of time and freeze portioned out meals. Ask friends and family to help with food shopping and meal preparation.
CRITICAL NUTRITIONAL CARE CONCERNS
Cancer patients have unique treatment regimens and, of course, they often have to work at overcoming side effects. What are the most critical nutritional care concerns?
Recommendations for most healthy people include consuming a diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains – with moderate amounts of protein and dairy and a decreased amount of fat, sugar, and alcohol.
But dietary needs for those with cancer and during treatment however usually will include calorie-dense and protein-dense foods.
During treatment it is not necessarily the time to attempt to gain back any weight however it is important to consume adequate calories to prevent further weight loss. Nutrition needs will also vary during treatment depending on the type of treatment and the side effects a patient may experience.
If an individual’s treatment includes surgery they will need increased calories and protein to promote healing. Consuming a healthful diet to provide optimal nutrition post-op can help a patient’s strength and energy level, keep up their weight and nutrition stores, decrease the chance of infection, and heal as quickly as possible.
Side effects that may be experienced during radiation therapy will depend on the area receiving radiation, the type of radiation, and the dose.
Side effects from chemotherapy may vary depending on the type of chemo and how it is administered. Nutrition related side effects may include appetite changes, change in taste and smell, mouth soreness, nausea and vomiting, and changes in bowel habits.
On the day of any treatment, a patient should attempt to eat a light meal or snack prior to the treatment and bring snacks with them. Always consult with your doctor.
Some recommendations to improve food intake include:
- Eat slowly and consume small, frequent meals (every 2 to 3 hours).
- Drink liquids between meals. Eat solid food separately.
- Eat dry foods like toast and crackers.
- Eat smaller portions of foods that are low in fat – but eat more often to make up for calorie and protein needs.
- Avoid highly aromatic foods though you can add mild spices, sugar or salt to foods.
- Add ginger to food as it is a natural remedy for nausea.
- Increase the volume of food eaten a little each day.
- Drink liquids with nutritional value. Liquids such as coffee, tea, and soda, offer no nutritional value or protein etc and while they may make a patient feel full they leave no room for healthy foods. Ensure, Boost, homemade protein shakes, and milk, are all good calorie and protein dense beverages.
- Avoid gassy foods.
- Eat in a pleasant environment and include friends and family.
If a patient is having difficulty eating during treatment they may benefit from a nutrition supplement. A patient should take advantage of any days they are feeling well and have a good appetite by consuming regular calorie-dense and protein-dense foods.
SMELL & TASTE AFFECTED BY TREATMENT
Many patients find their sense of smell and taste is affected by treatment. Do you have any advice for them?
It is common to experience a change in taste and smell while undergoing treatment. Regular brushing and rinsing of the mouth clear the taste buds prior to eating and may help foods to taste better. Cool and room temperature foods have less taste and aroma and may be better tolerated if the patient is experiencing nausea or diarrhea. If tolerated, some things that may help improve taste include seasoning foods with lemon, garlic, onion, and various spices. Chewing lemon drops or mint gum helps to keep the mouth moist and decrease bad flavors that linger in the mouth. Adding sugar to foods can help decrease the bitter acidic flavors they may be experiencing while eating.
FOODS/NUTRIENTS CANCER PATIENTS NEED
A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals may be beneficial. This includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
RECOMMENDED RECIPES OR COOKBOOKS
Can you recommend recipes and/or cookbooks for the patients or caregivers to use?
The American Cancer Society has many cookbooks available.
Cook for Life by Anne Ogden Gaffney
HEALTHY EATING TIPS UPON FINISHING TREATMENT
Once treatment is over and side effects have decreased, patients are usually able to start eating healthier and more balanced.
Some basic nutrition suggestions include:
- Whole, fresh foods and consuming a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats.
- Try to avoid processed foods.
- Consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Increase fiber intake.
- Consume lean protein and low fat dairy products.
- Eat breakfast daily and do not skip meals.
- Drink plenty of water and decrease the amount of caffeinated and alcohol beverages.
- Avoid added sugar.
- Fat intake should be moderate and consist of healthy unsaturated fats.
Along with a healthy diet I recommend exercising 30-60 minutes 5-7 days per week. This should include cardio, light weight training, calisthenics and stretching. Patients should consult with their doctor first to determine which exercises are appropriate.
Healthy Recipes for Patients and Survivors
We are delighted to feature a new recipe from COOK for Your LIFE each month. Learn more about healthy food options at www.cookforyourlife.org.
A unique website created by two-time cancer survivor Ann Ogden Gafney- When Ann was undergoing treatment for breast cancer years ago she discovered how important nutritious food can be before, during and after treatment.
COOK for Your LIFE features recipes and cooking classes for cancer patients and survivors – giving them the skills they need to regain a healthy lifestyle. You can also find Ann’s recently released cookbook in BTF’s booklist.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, sliced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Salt, to taste
3 cups kabocha squash cut into ½-inch cubes
2 cups drained and rinsed black beans
2 cups water
Plain yogurt (optional)
Cilantro, for garnish
1. In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, cayenne and salt and cook for another 4 minutes.
2. Add the kabocha, black beans and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes. Remove half of the soup and puree, then return to the pot and heat through.
3. Taste for seasoning, then serve with a dollop of plain yogurt and chopped cilantro.