Friday, October 1, 2010

Cancer and Nutrition - not just for breast cancer patients

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and for the first time in 15 years, I am not on the road speaking at cancer centers across the country. I admit that I miss meeting people, but I also admit that I don't miss the actual rigors of traveling.  In addition, I also admit that I would much rather be on my knees planting garlic during October!

Many breast cancer awareness events include information about (even focus on) the benefits of healthy eating for prevention, during treatment, and also during survivorship.  However, cancer centers are filled with hundreds if not thousands of patients with other cancer diagnoses who also have needs for timely, accurate, and individualized nutrition information and support from Registered Dietitians (RDs) to improve tolerance to therapy, quality of life, and health and wellness after treatments are completed.

Unfortunately, many cancer centers around the country still do not provide the beneficial expertise from oncology RDs as a pro-active component of their (so-called) comprehensive cancer care. However, here is an informative article about a cancer center in Massachusetts that has found ways to include oncology RDs as members of their professional oncology staff.  Reasons for not including nutritional oncology care provided by RDs, many of whom have received the advanced certification of an oncology nutrition specialty (CSO), from the point of diagnosis forward through recovery are now old, tired, and are simply worn-out excuses.

I learned to ask ahead of time if the cancer center inviting me to speak had an RD as a member of the oncology team (not just simply "available").  It was always slightly awkward to be speaking in the situations where the cancer center had no professional nutritional expertise or support. However, I always did my best to be an ambassador and advocate for the expansion of the care offered by that cancer center to include nutritional support from oncology dietitians. Time after time, I received feedback that after listening to my presentations (and more importantly, the never-ending questions afterward), administrators in the audience stated that they had no idea how important nutrition was to their patients, and best of all, at least a few centers where I spoke hired their first RD or even expanded the position(s) afterward.

My hat is off to this center (Hudner Oncology Center at St. Anne’s Hospital and the Regional Cancer Care Center in Dartmouth, MA) and the RDs on their staff who are dedicated to providing beneficial nutritional care to the patients receiving treatments at this cancer center.  May they serve as inspiration to those centers around the country who are still not out of the starting block. It can be done, and your patients will be the beneficiaries and thank you!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

6 comments:

Maruchan said...

I was in chemo the first half of this year and knew much less about this then than I do now. But even then, I had heard something about sugar and cancer and was startled to find cookies in the chemo room. And yeah, I'll admit, I sometimes ate them (well, if my cancer center put them out for us it must be OK...) I'd like to bring something to put out when I go back to visit, but I'm racking my brains what that would be. Baked goods are all flour and sugar. Most fruits and vegetables on their own are good if they are a bit prepared (sliced fruits or roasted vegs), but not so good if they are "sitting out" over time. What would you suggest as chemo room food? I was there from 9 to 4 on a treatment day, and it is a long time even if you pack a lunch like I did. It's a nice idea to have something sitting out for snacking.

Diana Dyer said...

Maruchan
Thanks for your insightful comment. I completely agree with your observation. My first bit of advice is to ask the dietitian (or if your cancer center is one without an RD, ask the head nurse or administrator) at your cancer center what policies regarding food safety are in place that will influence the options to fulfill your nice thought. I always always always brought everything I wanted to eat myself when in treatment. In addition, over the years, I also learned to be quite proactive and firm when discussing food options to be served as snacks or a meal at events where I was speaking. Early years often had appalling (and contradictory to my messages) choices. Talk about an awkward situation! Thanks for thinking about this, and best wishes!!

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Elizabeth Holland Kern said...

I was recently being treated at the Dyson Center in Poughkeepsie, NY. In the lobby, they always had a thermos of freshly-made fruit smoothie, sitting next to the coffee machine. And a nurse circulated in the IV room, offering people a cup of smoothie. I was so impressed!
Good topic -- Elizabeth

Maruchan said...

Thanks all for your replies. I like the smoothie idea for a start. I belong to a CSA that recently had a Harvest Moon potluck so I made (up) a lentil pie using all the same ingredients as pumpkin pie only cooked-and-mushed up lentis instead of pumpkin. I may bring this since it is loaded with iron for hemoglobin counts. But, still, there is some(though very little) sugar.

A friend who underwent chemo at NYC's Sloan Kettering said that local restaurants take turns through the week sending boxed lunches for the chemo room there. This may have still resulted in better or worse choices, but it is a lovely idea.

My center does not have a nutritionist on staff, but they hold one-evening seminars a couple of times a year on nutrition for cancer patients and their families. Of course, what's taught there contradicts many of the items put out at their other seminars not to mention in the chemo room!

Maruchan said...

By the way, I didn't find you by googling cancer, I found you by googling KALE! We grow our own and had a bumper crop emergency that sent me looking for how to freeze and keep it.

How to make kale into a snack for putting out in the chemo room...?