Cancer patients benefit from healthy lifestyle
For the nearly 1 million people who are diagnosed with cancer each year, treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation are commonly used to shrink a tumor and slow a cancer’s growth.
While these treatments can be effective in combating cancer, they can take a huge toll on a patient’s body, especially when it comes to getting the nutrients needed for a strong, healthy recovery.
Despite their benefits, cancer treatments can have many side effects, including weight loss, nausea and changes in taste. Many patients become dehydrated and lose vital nutrients due to vomiting and diarrhea.
Experts say a healthy, well-balanced diet, along with some moderate exercise and strong determination, can help a patient overcome these obstacles during and after their treatments.
Ginger Sorensen, a registered and licensed clinical dietician at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill., recommends that patients eat five or six smaller, less overwhelming meals per day, while maximizing caloric intake for the amount of food a patient is able to eat.
Sorensen says whole milk, whole fat yogurt, cream-based soups and peanut butter are examples of healthier foods filled with calories that can restore nutrition.
Many patients can experience nausea when trying to eat a meal in the days following a treatment, she says.
Sorensen suggests a ginger tea, or any drink with a ginger or anti-nausea component, that a patient can sip slowly. Fruits and vegetables are a very important part of a healthy lifestyle during treatments, she says, however, fruits may go down easier than vegetables since they may have a stronger scent and cause nausea more easily.
Cancer patients are especially vulnerable to dehydration due to side effects of treatment, and it is important to replace the fluids lost in the days and weeks that follow a treatment, Sorensen says.
Fluid intake can come from foods, but nutritionists recommend that the bulk of your fluid intake should be water. Adequate fluid intake is considered to be between six to eight 8 ounce glasses a day, and can be mixed with flavored drink mixes. she says.
Cancer not only affects the patient, but also friends and loved ones who serve as caregivers. It is important for caregivers to remember that everyday routines change during treatments, and that a healthy lifestyle is necessary.
“It becomes especially important for caregivers to offer food and make food easily accessible to a patient for when they are ready to eat,” she says, “as opposed to forcing someone to eat when it is not ideal.”
Sorensen recommends packing a cooler of snacks with plenty of options, such as healthy sandwiches, crackers with peanut butter or drink supplements like Ensure, while traveling to treatments in case the patient becomes hungry along the way.
About the Author
Adam Mesirow, health enews managing editor, is media relations director of Advocate Aurora Health. Securing high-profile media placements for more than a decade, he loves to tell a good story. Adam earned a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Michigan. He lives in Chicago and enjoys playing sports, reading TIME magazine and a little nonsense now and then.