Doctors often instruct cancer patients to eat well to keep up their strength.
But for cancer patients, getting through a simple meal can be a challenge. Radiation treatments can burn the throat, making it painful to swallow. Chemotherapy can cause patients to develop mouth sores or leave people nauseated. Other patients find that chemo takes away their sense of smell or alters their sense of taste.
Two books from the American Cancer Society aim to help both patients and their caregivers overcome these hurdles. The Complete Guide to Nutrition for Cancer Survivors ($24.95), published this year, explains how good nutrition can help boost the immune system and fight fatigue.
What to Eat During Cancer Treatment ($19.95), published last year, offers 100 recipes to help patients cope with six major symptoms of treatment. For instance, there’s a brie and apple grilled cheese for patients coping with nausea. Most recipes take only 30 minutes to make.
That’s important, given that cancer patients may not have much energy to spend in the kitchen and caregivers may be pressed for time, says the cancer society’s Colleen Doyle, who edited both books.
The recipes also include foods packed with vitamins and antioxidants, Doyle says. Patients who eat well are often better able to deal with side effects of treatment and may be better able to fight off infections, she says.
“I truly believe food is medicine, and it helps people provide their body with the nutrition they need to heal,” say Barbara Grant, a registered dietitian and co-author of Nutrition for Cancer Survivors.
American Cancer Society’s tips for cooking for someone with cancer:
• Ask if the person has any special requests. “Instead of just showing up with chocolate cake, ask, ‘What can I make you? What sounds good?’ ” says Grant.
• Ask if you can help with groceries or offer to do the dishes, says the American Cancer Society’s Colleen Doyle, a registered dietitian.
• Offer to put together a “survival kit” in a cooler, filled with snacks and drinks, for times when the cancer patient doesn’t want to get out of bed to go to the kitchen to eat, Doyle says.
• Prepare an “on-the-go” snack mix with nuts, pretzels, dry cereal or crackers for the cancer patient to eat when away from home.
• Instead of making one big casserole, prepare individual servings to freeze and reheat, Doyle says.
• Wash your hands carefully, make sure all meats and eggs are fully cooked, and take care to avoid any kind of contamination, which can be dangerous for people with weakened immune systems.