When a loved one receives a diagnosis of cancer, you may feel a responsibility to participate to ensure the most effective treatment.
It’s a natural instinct to want to help loved ones when they are ill. For most common illnesses, this help is easy to provide, usually involving no more than dispensing medicines and providing comfort where possible. You may be limited to the same caring procedures when helping a loved one with a diagnosis of cancer, but the frightening aspect of a cancer diagnosis strengthens this instinct to do something more significant.
An acquaintance of mine, let’s call her Lori, was a young mother with two young children when she was confronted with her husband’s cancer. Her husband seemed comfortable with placing his trust in the advice of his medical team. Lori, however, felt driven to become an active participant; to do something positive to help bring about his cure. She discussed her desires with him. They agreed that she should do whatever she felt compelled to do provided it did not interfere with his prescribed treatment.
At one of her husband’s initial chemotherapy sessions, she spoke with his oncologist and asked what changes she could make to his diet to perhaps strengthen his immune system to better fight the disease. She was very disappointed at the doctor’s reaction. He brushed off her suggestion, saying that it would make no difference; that she should simply keep him on his familiar diet.
She was skeptical of that advice. Disappointed, but undaunted, she conducted research on the Internet, and spoke with a nutritionist at the hospital where his treatment was being provided. The nutritionist disagreed with the doctor’s assessment, and his uninterested manner.
She agreed that there was no special diet directed at a cancer cure, but the suggestion that she keep him on the same diet depended upon whether his routine diet was a good one, even if he had been healthy. She also advised Lori that the diet she would recommend depends upon the type of cancer and the prescribed treatment. For example, one whose cancer involved the gastro-intestinal system would require a diet quite different from one she would recommend for other cancers.
She recommended that his diet should include an abundance of protein in whatever form that he could withstand it. She explained that there was also an abundance of evidence that a carefully planned diet could help to reduce the intensity of some of the unfortunate side-effects of chemotherapy.
Armed with new information and enthusiasm, Lori developed a plan of action. She stocked her pantry with yogurt, ice cream, soups, and foods that were high in protein and in calories.
As her husband’s treatment proceeded, his appetite for large meals waned. Incidents of nausea, somewhat controlled by medication, began to interfere with regular eating, and frequent smaller meals and readily available snacks filled the void. Lori was insistent, however, that he finishes his daily protein drink, even if it was spread out over the entire day. Whenever possible, she would encourage him to exercise by taking a short walk about outside.
Her efforts did bear fruit. Her husband managed to maintain a healthy weight during his lengthy course of treatment. Lori’s husband has been cancer-free for over ten years. They both attribute it to excellent medical care and luck, but suspect that Lori’s attention to her husband’s diet played an important role in his recovery.
By focusing on her husband’s diet, Lori learned more about her husband’s cancer. Her active involvement with his treatment elevated her spirits. She felt that she was an active, if auxiliary, member of his medical team. Her efforts also helped her to eat well and maintain her own health during this demanding period.
If you’re not a medical professional, there is little that you can do to direct the medical treatment designed to help your loved one. You can, however, with your loved one’s concurrence, find ways to provide support and comfort as your loved one experiences the side-effects of their treatment.