Good nutrition is essential if you've been diagnosed with cancer. Your nutrition needs are unique to your cancer, the treatment, and your personal preferences. The goals? To maintain weight and keep up your energy level and strength. To do that, you may need high-calorie foods and more proteins. That may be a change from the way you've been eating and a challenge when you don't feel well. For tips on boosting calories, see chapter 2. However, some cancer treatments can cause weight gain. In that case, it is important to maintain a healthy weight.
Besides helping you feel stronger and better, good nutrition helps you handle the side effects of cancer treatment, reduce your chance of infection, and assist with your recovery from treatment or surgery.
Safe food handling takes on even more importance since your immune response may not function as well as normal. With a low white blood cell count (common during chemotherapy and radiation) your body may not be able to fight infection or harmful foodborne bacteria effectively. For guidance on food safety, see chapter 12.
A registered dietitian can help you with a plan for managing food choices if you're dealing with cancer. Ask your physician or healthcare professional for a referral to a registered dietitian.
Prepare—make good nutrition part of your pretreatment approach to cancer recovery. Start with a positive mind-set. Eat for health; being well nourished is a strategy for building your strength and reserves before surgery or treatment begins. Plan ahead by stocking your kitchen with foods you can eat while you're dealing with the possible side effects of treatment. Have nutritious snacks on hand; you may not have the energy to prepare food, or the appetite to eat. Gather your support team so you'll have help if and when you need it for food shopping, food preparation, and companionship. A support group dealing with cancer also is helpful for both psychological support and practical tips. Ask your doctor, nurse, social worker, or other healthcare professional about support groups.
During "Chemo" and Radiation
Cancer treatment requires powerful medication or radiation that not only kills cancer cells but also can damage healthy body cells, resulting in possibly uncomfortable side effects. Careful food choices can help control some of the side effects that result from treatment. Most side effects go away once treatment is over.
To deal with side effects of chemotherapy or radiation that affect your ability to eat, try the strategies
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