Eating is part of life and doubly so when fighting a pernicious disease. Eating to maintain or gain weight is not something most women ever worry about, until they need to. During treatment, many cancer patients suffer from a lack of appetite and side effects (nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores). Low energy levels and an altered sense of taste only add to the difficulty of eating to support treatment, immune system and a healthy weight.
One approach to nutrition during treatment does not fit all, either. A patient’s pre-diagnosis physical health and weight will affect the recommendations for nutrition during treatment. The treatment itself varies in length and intensity. A body’s reaction to treatment, which could change day to day, will also determine a course of nutrition. BreastCancer.org has separate recommendations for each type of side effect a person may experience. Bowel function is often changed; dehydration and immune system function can be affected and should be addressed by the primary physician.
Suggestions for Healthy Eating During Treatment
- Plan ahead: on good days cook a lot and freeze food, so when you have a bad day, you or a friend can pull something out of the freezer and warm it.
- Good food matters— Eat your most nutritious and largest meal when you feel the best. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages rather than empty calories. Good choices: a handful of nuts and raisins, vegetable hummus and salad wrap or a vegetable fruit smoothie (kale and banana). Poor choices: chips, soda, or a milk shake.
- Protect your immune system and avoid:raw or undercooked food, including eggs, unpasteurized milk and beer, soft cheeses, raw honey, and sun. Skip food from street vendors, food buffets, potluck dinners, and salad bars, as improper holding temperatures make the food more susceptible to bacterial growth.
- Drink lots of water and sports drinks with extra electrolytes.
- Sit if you tire while cooking. Have a chair or stoolto the cooktop
- Use prepared foods, such as frozen unsweetened berries, washed fresh vegetables, string cheese, dried fruits and nuts. To help you eat enough protein and calories, eat small snacks between meals. (See “good” choices above)
- Take supplements: If you can’t eat enough food (generally) or protein (specifically), ask your doctor to recommend a multivitamin and/or liquid protein supplement for you.
- Get professional advice about your diet. Have a registered dietician evaluate your diet for the nutrition you need during cancer treatment.
- Have groceries or prepared meals delivered. Consider ordering groceries online, or phoning or faxing in an order to a store or restaurant that delivers.
- Shop differentlyif store smells bother you:
- Go to a farmer’s market
- Go to a warehouse store and buy in bulk, so you shop less frequently
- Ask a friend to go with you and help you with the loading and unloading.
Accept help when it is offered; give suggestions for how to help.People will want to help you and when they offer, be ready with two or three suggestions of what they can do. They’ll feel good when they help you.
- Suggest they do some grocery shopping for you and have a basic list ready.
- Write out menus for several meals, including any special recipes, so people know what you’d like to eat.
- Let friends know what you can or should eat on your “down” days, so they can be truly helpful then.
If you’re having difficulty, either with eating or bowels, for more than 2 days, see your doctor. Fighting cancer requires the best efforts and nutrition possible.