Nutritional Guidance During Cancer Therapy
While cancer treatments can save lives, their side effects can sometimes make it difficult to get the proper nutrition for healing.
That’s why the CRMC Cancer Program has Jennifer Bertram, a full-time, registered dietitian specializing in oncology, on hand to educate and assist patients throughout their course of therapy and beyond.
“Good nutrition makes a huge difference in cancer treatment, because we need sufficient nutrients to promote healing,” said Bertram. “Our patients really need more protein and
calories than many other people, because those needs can be greatly increased with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy.”
In addition to making sure patients are getting the proper nutrients, Bertram also helps patients, like Bob Himell, who are dealing with other eating issues sometimes
caused by cancer therapy.
In 2015, Himell discovered he had throat cancer that had metastasized to two of the lymph nodes in the back of his neck. Over the course of four months, he had nine chemotherapy treatments and 35 radiation treatments.
“I was told when I first started that I may not be able to eat because of the radiation and
what it does to your throat, and that I might need a PEG (feeding tube) if I became unable to chew and swallow through my mouth,” said Himell. “I said, ‘That’s ridiculous!’”
After three weeks of treatment, eating had become so difficult that Himell had already lost 21 lbs.
“I decided that maybe a PEG is better than not eating, so that’s how I fed myself for three months,” said Himell. “It’s not really fun, but I guess it’s a choice — do you want to die, or you want to eat?”
Bertram walked Himell through the process, teaching him how to prepare food, as well as his medications and nutritional supplements, to place in the tube.
“Puree is a very important word for people who have cancer, because you can take a lot of food and puree it into a liquid and then just dump it down there, and then, of course, there’s water – you have to drink so much water,” said Himell.
Bertram also educates patients on how their nutritional needs might be different after cancer treatment ends.
“While I’m encouraging people to eat more calories and protein than they normally do while undergoing treatment, after treatment is completed, many of them need to focus on weight loss so that they can reduce their chance of recurrence,” said Bertram. “So, I’m available for weight loss coaching for those folks who need it.”
Himell, who has remained cancer-free in the four years since his time at the Cancer Center, is grateful for the help Bertram gave him during his treatment.
“I think it made a lot of difference, the fact that you’ve got somebody who not only cares,
but who knows what they’re talking about and can educate you as to what you need to do,” said Himell. “I don’t think anyone really can or should do it without a good dietitian like Jennifer. She was always there making sure that I was doing the right thing.”