Being a caretaker of a loved one recently diagnosed with cancer, I am learning a lot of things very quickly.
Nursing school gave me a head start on becoming informed about care during cancer, and my amazing friends in the field have also helped me. After that, the challenge is to apply that information into the care of a real human being who likes her habits and routines the way they were.
Here are my top 5 tips:
+ Follow the diet that the health care team recommended for you:
Diets are individualized to help manage health issues that came before cancer, and health issues that can develop during treatment. Some treatments can increase blood glucose, so managing any pre-existing diabetes issues will be important. Cancers along the gastrointestinal tract will also affect digestion and motility, so your team may make recommendations specific to GI issues as well, especially if you’re experiencing GI bleeds and/or constipation. Remember, some foods on your recommended diet plan can be easier or tougher to digest and process than others, so keep a food diary about what you eat, when you ate it, and how you felt afterward.
+ Eat small and nutritious meals 4-6x times a day:
These do not have to be full plates of food, but they do have to be full of nutrients. Empty calories are useless and detrimental; your body is working at at least double time to function and to replenish what the cancer depletes, so every thing you eat and drink needs to help you. You might need to eat your biggest portions earlier – maybe really early – in the day to give your body more time to digest it, and smaller portions as the day goes on. Be careful to not eat your last meal too late or close to your bedtime, as this could contribute to indigestion, acid reflux, nausea, and/or vomiting. If you are prescribed an acid reflux med, take it as prescribed to minimize discomfort. Since you might get full quickly, it’s important to eat first at meal times instead of filling up on water, and sip water throughout the day.
+Be creative with recipes and expand options:
The biggest arguments can be about what someone *wants* to eat versus what they are *supposed* to eat. Quinoa – a wonderful protein-packed superfood but not a staple in our household – became a big fight. Sometimes small adjustments can make a big difference. One important thing to know is that cancer and chemotherapy contribute to a drop in red blood cells, which means less fluid and oxygen circulating in the body, and even more loss if you have internal bleeds that are trying to heal. Talk with your medical and nutrition team about what foods can help you pick up your red blood cell count and add them to the grocery list!
+ Avoid takeout, prep meals not more than one day in advance (there are days where you may be too tired to cook), and do not leave food out on counters or tables:
People with cancer are more susceptible to illness from poor hand hygiene and bacteria from food spoilage, even at low levels. Wash utensils and glasses between uses or just get fresh ones.
+ Chemotherapy can change sense of taste and create the sensation of a metallic taste in the mouth; try rinsing out your mouth with water before eating and use disposable plastic utensils instead of metal ones to reduce the sensation of metallic taste:
Bitter foods can taste more bitter and sweet foods can taste less sweet. It may help to focus less on taste changes and more on providing your body with the good fuel it needs right now, or on the company of others during meals or your favorite tv shows.
Maintaining good nutrition is essential in supporting our physical health and our mental health. Know your health history and understand your body and how it’s functioning, learn more about the health benefits of food, and work with your medical providers to create a customized approach for daily health regimens.
Need additional help? Want to speak with me about this and related topics? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-913-6441, I’d be happy to speak with you!
Do you have knowledge and experience about this topic? What would you add to this list of tips?