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Nutrition is important for everyone. Optimal nutrition allows your body to function at its best. If you're living with cancer and your immune system is already compromised, nutrition is especially important.
Maintaining optimal nutrition is essential to keep you strong, enable you to tolerate your cancer treatment and help you recuperate faster after treatment. During this time, your body needs more "fuel" than normal in order to repair the effects of cancer treatment. If you are unable to consume the fuel you need, your body will soon draw upon what it has stored (i.e., fat and protein). When your body uses stored protein, impaired functioning of your immune system may result. Therefore, it is important to give your body a constant supply of nutrients to use as fuel during the healing process.
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Southwestern Regional Medical Center (Southwestern), we understand that nourishing your body with healthful foods and a well-balanced diet is an important component of cancer care. The Nutrition Department strives to bring you individualized nutrition therapy as you receive your conventional cancer treatments.
The Nutrition Team at Southwestern
Nourishing your body with a healthy, well-balanced diet is one way to take control of your life and health. Yet, you may find this to be a difficult task as you battle cancer. The Nutritional Support Program at Southwestern is here to guide and support you. Our goal is to help strengthen your body’s immune system by teaching good nutrition and setting goals based on your individual needs.
Southwestern’s nutrition and metabolic support team is comprised of a registered nurse and 10 licensed, registered dietitians, eight of whom are board certified in oncology nutrition. This national certification, which the American Dietetic Associate created in early 2008, showcases a dfietitian’s expertise in providing specialized nutritional care to patients with a cancer diagnosis.
Before a dietitian can sit for the certification exam, he/she must have a minimum of two years experience as a registered dietitian and at least 2,000 hours in the field of oncology. Receiving the certification is then contingent on passing the certification exam. To date, Southwestern's dietitians make up three of the four dietitians in the state of Oklahoma who are board certified in oncology nutrition.
“By being board certified in oncology, it assures our patients that we truly are the experts in oncology and are meeting our mission, vision and values every day,” says Kalli Castille, Director of Nutritional Support and Culinary.
Your Nutrition Assessment & Plan
Upon your arrival at Southwestern, you will be scheduled to meet with one of our dietitians. Your dietitian is a member of your overall cancer care team and will be assigned specifically to you. In your initial meeting with your dietitian, you will receive an individualized, comprehensive nutrition assessment and plan. The assessment may include:
- Laboratory analysis of the blood - to determine the status of your immune system (immunocompetence) and protein stores
- Medical history and nutrition interview - to get insight into your appetite, food preferences, the status of your digestive system, and any existing or potential complications
- Nutrition anthropometrics – to determine your percent of body fat and loss of lean tissue (by taking body measurements)
You may also receive the following additional tests during your care:
- Indirect calorimetry - to assess your calorie requirements using a simple breathing test to measure the amount of oxygen consumed
- Computerized diet profile - to analyze your nutrient intake by having you complete a three-day diet profile
- Nitrogen balance - to determine if your body is using protein properly by measuring protein loss
After the assessment, you and your dietitian will develop a personal nutrition plan that is tailored to your individual needs. This plan aims to keep you strong and nutritionally healthy to enable you to tolerate your conventional treatment. Your dietitian will focus on preventing malnutrition, managing side effects of cancer treatment, recommending supplements to improve your use of calories and helping find foods your body can tolerate.
Your dietitian follows you closely throughout your entire continuum of care. “We see our patients through everything, from the moment they walk in the door, through all treatments (i.e., radiation, chemotherapy, surgery), and even in remission,” says Castille.
In addition, our dietitians communicate regularly with other Southwestern departments. Here, there is a shared belief that nutrition truly makes a difference. Your dietitian and your oncologist will work together to integrate nutrition therapies into your cancer treatment. The goal is to promote positive healthy eating habits and enhance your overall well-being and quality of life.
At Southwestern, our nutrition team is encouraged to learn as much as we can to provide you with the most up-to-date scientific information and research. With an emphasis on proactive nutrition intervention, we aim to keep you nutritionally fortified before, during and after your cancer treatment. We also understand that proper nutrition can provide other benefits, such as reducing fatigue and improving your quality of life.
Our dietitians provide several nutrition therapies designed to complement your traditional cancer treatments.
Personal Meal Plans
We understand that adequate protein, calories and high-nutrient foods are essential during this time. We also understand that cancer treatment may affect your appetite and/or your ability to keep whole foods down. At Southwestern, your dietitian will work with you to design personalized meal plans tailored to your unique situation. They will recommend dietary options specific to you, including immune-boosting foods designed to reduce the toxicity of your cancer treatment.
In addition, the nutrition team works directly with our world-class chef to create menus and recipes just for you. By implementing new research findings into the meals, we try to incorporate all the foods, herbs and spices that have been scientifically proven to be beneficial to people with cancer. The goal is to provide you with a well-balanced diet rich in phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.
The foods suggested in your meal plans are available in Southwestern’s dining room. Selections include fish, poultry, legumes, low-fat yogurt, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and cereals and other healthy food choices. We also offer a variety of protein powders and supplements to make sure you get the necessary nutrients if you are not able to keep whole foods down.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation
Vitamin and mineral supplements provide nutrients that your diet may not, and offer a boost where illness may have depleted your body. Our dietitians work with our Naturopathic Medicine Department to develop a supplementation plan specific to you. This plan includes nutrients that may help support your immune system and reduce toxic side effects, such as Beta carotene, Selenium, Vitamins C and E, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and others.
Should you require nutritional support, your dietitian, along with a physician, nurse and pharmacist, will work closely with you to make sure you receive proper nourishment. If you are unable to eat or digest food, we will provide nutrition parenterally (through a vein) or enterally (through a feeding tube).
By teaching good nutrition during cancer treatment, our dietitians take the guesswork out of which foods to eat and which supplements to take. The Nutrition and Metabolic Support Department offers educational programs and classes, including a weekly nutrition class and a monthly cooking class.
Classes feature the following topics:
- Cooking with herbs
- Protein and calorie supplements
- Immune boosting foods
- Healthful cooking
- Cooking at home
- Finding healthy food products in your area
- Nutrition and cancer
- The relationship between a healthy diet and wellness
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program
Southwestern also offers a Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME) Program. Accredited by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the program was piloted in 1984. Since then, the ADA has recognized the DSME Program at CTCA for its outstanding care of diabetic cancer patients.
The DSME Program includes ongoing lifestyle coaching and monitoring to ensure your cancer treatment is being managed properly alongside your diabetes. The program focuses on the diabetes disease process, sick day management, nutritional management, physical activity, use of medications, blood sugar monitoring, psychosocial interventions, and prevention of acute and chronic complications.
Dealing with side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea, constipation, diarrhea and fatigue may make it difficult for you to maintain adequate nutrition. For helpful tips on staying nutritionally fortified as you fight cancer, read our January 2007 newsletter, featuring the role of nutrition in cancer care.