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Eating During Cancer Treatment

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I’ve got cancer; a phrase I’ve heard all too often.  Cancer is undiscerning; there seems to be no running from this affliction that affects the richest to the poorest, the kindest to the meanest, the youngest to the oldest.

My father has prostate cancer, a friend has breast cancer, another fights leukaemia; there is no hiding.  That’s not strictly true; avoiding environmental toxins, eating a healthy diet and exercising from childhood through our adult life are the best preventative medicines we could ever ask for.  The research is conclusive; a healthy lifestyle dramatically reduces risk of developing cancer but, like all things, it isn’t full proof and some of us will develop the disease.

There are thousands of books written on cancer – for simplicity sake cancer cells are abnormal cells that grow out of control and invade other tissue. To slow this replication, to fight against the spread of the disease and to improve any cancer treatment prognosis it’s important to eat well.  The goal of eating well during cancer treatment is to maintain or restore the person’s nutritional status.

If you don’t have cancer, I hope you’ll continue to read.  This article provides information to those undergoing cancer treatments, to help them to keep eating so they have the best change of fighting back against the disease. 

Cancer diagnosis is a shocking, life changing experience.  When dad told me he had prostate cancer, with a Gleason score of 7, I was terrified! All I knew about prostrate is that men underwent an unpleasant medical exam involving coughing and that cancer was not good. As tears welled in my eyes and doom loomed in my mind, I remembered cancer can be beaten.  I almost immediately set about learning as much as I could about the cancer, the treatment and potential setbacks to it.

I learnt there are many factors beyond our control like our age, type of cancer, stage at time of diagnosis etc.  I also learnt the 5 factors within our control can make a huge difference to cancer treatment outcomes, these are:

  1. A positive attitude
  2. A great support network
  3. Moderate exercise
  4. Lots of rest
  5. Continue to eat

They are all important but for the rest of this article I’ll be focusing on factor 5 continuing to eat during treatment.

Let’s start at the beginning, what should a person with cancer eat?

The cancer fighting diet is the same as the healthy eating guidelines for the general population, a high carbohydrate, high dietary fiber and low fat diet.   However, cancer patients often undergo some form of chemo or radiation therapy targeted at killing the cancer, these treatments suppress the body’s ability to fight disease.

To boost immunity and help fight those cancerous cells the diet should provide lots of antioxidant from fruits and vegetables, foods like apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, turmeric, eggplant, nuts, broccoli, cabbage, flax seed, cauliflower, olive oil, berries including raspberries, blueberries, goji berries, and elderberries, to name a few.  In addition, I suggest limiting or cutting out coffee, sugar and highly processed foods as these affect your body’s ability to fight disease.

In my experience, cancer patients are highly motivated to eat right.  I believe diet was instrumental in helping my grandfather beat his first around with cancer; sadly when he developed stomach cancer 10 years later he lost the battle.  One of the main things that lead to his decline and eventual death was his inability to eat anything other than butterscotch pudding, this obviously affected his nutritional status and his strength.

His, like many cancer patients, ability to eat a healthy diet was affected by nausea and loss or appetite.  My father suffered from severe taste changes that made it impossible for him to eat or drink things he’d enjoyed for years before.  Others experience any number of difficulties including mouth sores, changes in taste, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, swallowing difficulties etc.  These changes can be due to the cancer itself or a side effect of the treatment. 

 With the removal of foods from the diet it makes it harder to meet your daily nutritional requirements.  The key is to make every mouth full count.  This means you want to maximize the calorie and nutrient quality of each bit of food you take.

Depending on the side effect experienced it will change the dietary recommendations below are a few recommendations based on the side effect experienced.

Taste changes leading to reduced desire to eat:

  • Try a variety of foods, even those not previously eaten to see if any are more tolerable than others.
  • Eat small frequent meals and snacks.
  • Eat soft foods like mashed potatoes and carrots, or slightly puree food.
  • Try avocado with some lemon and salt squeezed, it’s a nutritionally loaded high calorie soft food.
  • Limit high-fiber foods as these fill you up quickly and can lead to decreased intake and early fullness.   Now is not the time for weight loss you still want nutrient dense foods but with lower fiber content.

Dad had a lot of problems on this front and eventually resorted to drinking ‘Ensure Plus’ a nutritional balance supplement drink that’s loaded with calories.  You don’t want to resort to this unless you’ve exhausted all other possibilities.  To help your body fight cancer you need to keep your energy and weight up if you can’t eat, good quality nutritional supplements are a good alternative.

Nausea

  • Eat small frequent meals.
  • Avoid fried foods, spicy foods and foods with a strong smell.
  • To help settle the stomach and to prevent dehydration frequently sip fluids.
  • Avoid coffee and alcohol as these are diuretics leading to dehydration.
  • Sleep with your head slightly elevated and avoid lying down after a meal.
  • Turn the heat down a cool environment may help you feel less nauseated

 

Eat when you can and don’t worry that you’re not eating, just make every mouth or sip count.  Smoothies, and protein shakes are good for sipping and will help your keep your energy up.

Diarrhea

  • Eat small frequent meals
  • Avoid high dietary fiber meals
  • Eat bananas, avocadoes, salmon and other foods high in potassium
  • Drink lots of water and herbal tea, aim for 2 liters a day
  • Eat nutrient dense foods loaded in vitamins and minerals like green leafy vegetables, orange and red vegetables including red peppers, carrots, sweet potato, berries etc.

I hope this information helps you to keep eating as you go forward with your cancer treatment. Please let me know how we can help be that with preparing meals, dropping by for a chat, donating blood whatever it is Vic and I will assist.

If you suffer other side effects and would like more information please drop me a line by clicking here, or leave a comment.

 

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7 thoughts on “Eating During Cancer Treatment

  1. Hi again Alison,
    thanks for yet another informative and yet easy to read article. I too have been afflicted with this dreaded disease. Upon going for my regular heath checks soon after returning to live in Australia one came back abnormal, and a few more in-depth checks and a minor op confirmed the worst. I was devasted. With each subsequent check I was ensured it was just “a precaution” and that we usually find that everything is fine. But it wasn’t.
    My world went into a spin. I immediately looked at my diet, which wasn’t that bad I thought. I did want to get back to making all our meals from scratch and that is when I coincidentally found the Thermomix. Anyway to cut a long story short, after I had some major surgery and plenty of time out to recover I decided to not only get a Thermomix but to become a distributor as I had seen the positive impact it had had on our lives.
    I am now able to avoid all additives and preservatives (plus artificial colours and flavours) by cooking all of our meals from scratch in minimal time & without fuss.
    Unfortunately the other problem people suffering from cancer experience (or any major heath issue) is lack of energy to prepare proper meals, this is another reason so many people in such situations find a Thermy of great assistance.
    Your truly,
    RB

    • Robyn, Thank you for sharing your story, I can only imagine what it must have been like to receive that diagnosis. I’m very happy to hear that you are recovering well and that you found a device to help you prepare healthy meals from scratch. Have you noticed a change in how you feel when you make your own meals vs. buying prepackaged or eating out?

  2. Very informative article Allison! Yes! Hearing a diagnosis of ‘cancer’ is very frightening, however, with good treatment and care one can live on for many, many years. This is proving true for your Dad where his PSA level is now down to ‘one’ with no future doctor visits for another year. Your Dad is fortunate in that he is a ‘walker’ and continued this through his treatments. His meals, as you mentioned, were highly nutritious and home-made with breakfast always being a huge bowl of fresh fruit. At first, he was unable to eat his normal amounts but he did not worry about this set-back, continuing to eat what he could as often as possible. Your helpful article will be of great assistance to those in the early stages of this ‘dreaded’ disease, and hopefully, with time, most will return to their ‘normal’ lives. Mom

    • Thanks Mom, I second the return to normal lives. A healthy diet will not only speed the recovery, but as you point out sustain them through the treatment. Great news about dad’s PSA.

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