Nutrition & Cancer Preparing for Cancer Treatment 

Summary: Part of preparing for your cancer treatment is planning out how you will ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and work through your treatment journey. Here you will find tips and suggestions on how to make the process of healthy eating easier during your cancer journey, and accept the help being offered by your partner, family and friends, or medical care team. Planning ahead also helps reduce stress levels, allows others to help in the ways that you need, and ensures that even on your worst days, you still have the things you need to get by. Nutrition during and after treatment are very important for your overall health experience.

Your cancer treatment is a time for you to focus on staying strong and working through and minimizing the side affects you are experiencing. Healthy eating is also a key in supplying your body with the nutrients it needs to stay as strong and well as possible. Not everyone that goes through cancer treatment will suffer from the gamete of side effects. There are many factors that influence the varying degrees of side effects that the cancer patient experiences. This can include the type of cancer you have, your age, body parts involved, the type and length of treatment, treatment dose, and your current overall health. While there are no set dietary guidelines for cancer patients, other than to eat as healthy as possible, many specialists simply encourage food intake whenever is possible.

In this article, “healthy eating” is defined simply as eating a variety of nourishing foods that provide your body with the optimal health you need to have advantages during your treatment. Eating healthy gives you certain specific advantages: 

  – Having a well-balanced diet allows you to begin your treatment with reserves; enough minerals, proteins and vitamins to help ease you in to the regimen. These reserves will help you to stay strong, prevent your tissues and muscles from deteriorating, help to rebuild your tissues, and provide extra immunity protection. 
  – Those patients who eat well do better coping with side effects and have a higher chance of receiving their treatment without breaks, or rescheduled doses. This dose rescheduling happens often when the patient is simply too weak for their treatment. 
  – Eating well is crucial for your overall health to help your body stay well. As you undergo cancer treatment, your overall health will be detrimental to your cancer journey and process. There will be days on your journey that your appetite may be poor or suffer due to side effects from your treatment. During these trying times, do your best to stay hydrated and focus on drinking as much as you can. 

Should I meal prep and plan? 

Yes. Planning ahead not only helps to relieve stress in the moment, but also allows you to ensure that you get all of the things that you need, when you need them. There are many methods for getting the weekly, or monthly, grocery shopping done. With grocery delivery services, friends and family, and small excursions on your good days, you will be able to stock your pantry and freezer with a variety of meals, for the varying days of your treatment journey.  

When others offer to assist, consider the ways in which their help would benefit you the most. Would it help if they made a homecooked meal? Better if they brought you your favorite restaurant takeout? Or a gift card to a meal service? Do not be too proud or embarrassed about accepting this help. Thinking about these specific tasks you need help with or letting people know your food likes and dislikes beforehand may be beneficial for all involved. Consider these points when helping others care and support you: 

  – Make yourself a standby grocery list that has the stapes and basic things you need the most. This will make it easy to share with others, and quickly let others know your needs. 
  – Make your store trips a buddy-system, so that you can have your own personal bagger and bag carrier as to not wear yourself out prematurely. 
  – Take others up on their offers to make you food- even if it is something new.
  – Offer up menu ideas t family and friends for holidays, parties and get togethers. This will help to ensure that you have something to eat at these events as well. 
  – Ask your friends not to prepare or purchase too many high calorie, low nutrient “comfort” foods. While there is nothing wrong with these hearty, delicious foods sometimes, moderation is best. 
  – Keep a special list of foods that appeal to you on your worst days, so those helping know which foods to bring you when you are not feeling your best.
  – Do not hesitate to go out to eat when you have the energy.
  – Utilize restaurant services like car-side pickup, delivery, and home delivery programs. 
  – If your treatments have left you with low blood cell counts, be sure your family and friends know and understand proper food preparation protocols to ensure you do not accidentally get food poisoning. 

Grocery shopping can be exhausting when you are going through treatment. There are also numerous triggers and uncontrollable circumstances like temperatures, food smells, and bacteria. Friends and family may be able to help and pick things up for you during your rough days. When you do need to take yourself to the grocery store, consider these tips to get the most out of your time and trip: 

  – Create your grocery list in the order of the aisles at the store. This ensures you stay on track and do not have to backtrack through the aisles, exhausting yourself even more.
  – If possible, shop in a small, local grocery store and avoid the big, mainstream chain stores.
  – Consider checking into your local farmer’s markets. Open air markets offer fresh air and bits of sunshine, which can help perk up the most exhausted bodies. 
  – Buy in bulk, or multiples of your shelf stable or freezer items. This can help reduce the amount of times you need to go out of the house at all.
  – Utilize the services at the store that help you to bag and carry out your groceries. 

What should I stock my pantry and refrigerator with during my treatment? 

You should think through the varying ways that you feel from week to week. Do you have days where you feel quite well, hungry and are able to eat normally? Or do you have days where you can barely get out of bed, and clear liquids are difficult to hold down? Make sure you have a wide variety of items on hand to cover those days, the good and the bad, and all that falls in between. While stocking up on your favorites, remember to get some easy to digest foods like soups, gelatin, broth or hot cereals. These tips may also be helpful: 

  – Buy larger, family sized or multiple individual packs of portions from the freezer section. Certain warehouse stores like Sam’s Club and Costco have a very large variety of these types of products.
  – Take advantage of premade foods when you need to. Hummus containers, fruit snacks, and baby carrots are quick and easy snacks, with a low gut digestion load.
  – While processed foods are not the best to lean on constantly, having them occasionally will not hurt. These foods can be best for your worst days, allowing easy preparation and storage. 
  – Choose a large variety of fresh, frozen, canned vegetables and fruits. Frozen vegetables are typically healthier than canned foods and contain much less sodium. 
  – Work to keep your pantry, refrigerator and freezer organized so that your friends and family will not struggle to help you restock, shop, and know what is in your food stock. 

Overall, it is important to take an active role in your nutritional health. Staying flexible, working together with your support system and caregivers, and simplifying as much as possible will help to make all of your meals, regardless of what type of meal it is, much more enjoyable. If you are still struggling with being able to get yourself food or meals, consider contacting your local Meals on Wheels Association of America office. These programs provide free meals, delivered by volunteer drivers, to those in need. Some of these programs also provide other nutritional services. Contact your medical care team, social workers or local health department for more information today.

Resources Used:
Reclaiming Intimacy
ACS
NIH
American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Nutrition, Barbara Grant, ISBN0944235786 

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