By Brittany Shaw, RDN, CD, CSO, ThedaCare Cancer Care
There is a beautiful drawing by the artist and author Charlie Mackesy. In it, the horse tells the boy, “Asking for help isn’t giving up. It’s refusing to give up.” For many people, a cancer diagnosis is one of the first times they realize it’s okay to ask for or accept help.
I am a dietitian at ThedaCare Cancer Care, and my job is to help cancer patients through the rigors of chemo, radiation, and healing from surgery through intentional food choices. Sometimes it’s eating what brings them joy. Other times, we find foods they can better tolerate amid difficult side effects, or that will help them build strength for the challenges ahead.
I believe that food is a tool of both health and help during difficult times. Family and friends can embrace the idea of preparing healthy and/or appetizing food for their loved one because it is something actionable — something they can do to help. It provides a sense of control in a time when so much seems out of our control.
The act of preparing food has always been nurturing for those who partake of it, but we don’t often think about what it does for the cook, do we? During cancer treatment, you can prep bags of smoothie ingredients ahead of time, keep water bottles filled, and make food without waiting for a request. It’s a lot more likely that a person will eat an egg with toast if it’s put in front of him or her instead of having to decide if it “sounds good.” I say, just make it. You’ll both feel better that you did.
You Are a Cancer Survivor
Good Nutrition is Part of Your Toolbox
Better nutritional status helps you:
- Maintain your muscle mass
- Better tolerate radiation and chemotherapy
- Decrease your length-of-stay if you are admitted to the hospital
- Recover more quickly from treatments
- Experience an overall better quality of life
- Strengthen bonds with helpful family and friends
Savor the Sweet
Keith Hutmaker remembers one of his first meetings with Brittany after starting radiation for his colorectal cancer. His wife Nadine, a longtime healthy eater, accompanied him. “Nadine and Brittany completely bonded over smoothies. She totally loved that topic!” Brittany then secured a big box of easy-to-digest foods for Keith from Feeding America, including bananas, rice, and applesauce. Keith says, “I learned that when I win, everyone around me wins because they are supporting me.”