Feeding a cancer patient (guest post!)

As part of my “how to help a friend with cancer” series that I started at the beginning of this month, Canape and her Momma have written a “what to feed the chemo patient and her family” post for us.  I asked them to because I am NOT a cook and would simply feel like a fraud posting on the topic.  They, however, are excellent cooks, and I would eat anything that they made.  Anything.  One note though — none of us are nutritionists, so please check with your doctor or oncology nutritionist for personal recommendations if you are undergoing treatment for cancer.  The following is an interview between Canape (italics) and her Momma (normal type), who has been treated successfully for breast and ovarian cancer in the past and has just started chemo again this Fall.  Our thoughts and prayers are with them, as they have told us theirs are with us.


1. As a chemo patient, or Chemo Patience as I like to call you, do you find that your tastes change during treatment? 

You kill me; “Chemo Patience,” indeed. Rich, creamy things or the thought of them add to the nausea. I don’t think my actual tastes have ever changed. Hot cereals like cream of wheat, grits and/or Ralston are particularly helpful for me when I need to eat and feel nauseated. Anti nausea drugs are literally a Godsend! I take peanut butter crackers with me to treatment sessions. An empty stomach encourages nausea for me.   

(Note from WhyMommy: I lost almost all my sense of taste due to chemo.  I don’t know why the difference between me and Canape’s Momma here, but there is often a wide variation between patients.  For instance, I liked spicy foods when I could stomach them (5-6 days after treatment), just because I felt like I could finally taste something.  Other than that, I lived on peanut butter crackers for the first 5 days (due to the nausea), and whatever was brought over or cooked by the boys’ grandparents the last several days.  It was hard to eat enough to avoid losing weight, but for the most part, I did it (this is very, very important for cancer patients.  Losing weight during treatment is very bad).  Many thanks to all my Moms Club friends (and Jessica!) for bringing over casseroles, salads, fresh breads, cookies, and of course the ubiquitous chemo brownies.  They were awesome and helped me more than you will ever know.)

2. Are there any spices or types of food that you have found never appeal to you or other chemo patients that you know? 

Again, rich, creamy things don’t appeal to me, but I think that has everything to do with nausea. The chemo itself has never affected my tastes. That’s probably why I continue to gain weight, unlike lots of chemo patients who lose during treatment. At this point, let me say something about the nausea and its management. Know that the infusion nurses are your friends. They contribute to your well-being in far more ways than pumping you full of drugs. For instance: the doctor prescribes oral meds for nausea. In California I had four different prescriptions and, as usual, they all had directions on the bottles, but the directions all included, “as needed.” I would wait until I thought medication was “needed” before I took anything. When the nurses asked about nausea and how I took the meds, they said, “That’s all wrong.” Take the strongest one of the four as soon as you get home, then follow the schedule on the bottle. Boost the heavy hitter with the others. In other words, don’t wait until nausea comes. Prevent it. Add to that my advice to take a stool softener once or twice a day while you are taking the anti nausea stuff so that you won’t develop a bowel elimination problem.  

3. What is a good way to get in your fruits and vegetables if your chemo regimen will not allow you fresh fruits and vegetables? 

Raw fresh fruits and vegetables are taboo only if your white count plummets and you are neutropenic. (With the recent information about all the imported seafood and the lack of sufficient inspection in some of the originating countries, I’d be really careful about that.) Include as many cooked fruits and vegetables as you can in your diet. Add extra fiber with whole grains and nuts. That helps with the problem I addressed above as well. Dried fruits are okay.  

4. What kind of preparation should be done and what kind of instructions should be included on meals intended for a friend’s freezer? 

Always, when taking food, remember how many people you are feeding. In my experience, too much food is worse than too little. Leftovers will either need to be thrown out or put away for later. Often there is no room in the fridge or freezer for extra or no one to take the time and trouble to store things. If you plan to leave leftovers, take along a suitable container for storage. Everything should be disposable, if possible. Label everything; give instructions for cooking. Ask about likes and dislikes. You might give a choice between two meals. Ask if there is a favorite take-out the person might enjoy. (Remember how many chicken casseroles we got when I had breast cancer?)

Yes, and there was that incredibly frightening opaque green jello salad with peas in it. A seven year old’s worst nightmare. Forget that, a 34 year old’s worst nightmare too.  

5. Chemo patients will sometimes have sores develop in their mouths and throats. What are good things to eat, and what should they avoid if they get these sores? 

What you can and cannot eat depends on the severity of the throat and mouth sores and sometimes you have one and then the other or one and not the other. Mouth sores make it extremely difficult to chew. Your tongue feels like it’s two or three times its natural size. Soft foods like pudding, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pasta are pretty manageable. Milkshakes and smoothies are soothing, filling and somewhat nutritious. By all means avoid anything acidic or salty.  

Here are a couple of recipes that Momma recommends for taking to a friend in need. We were going to change the name of the salad, but in the spirit of inappropriate laughter (which can be so incredibly contagious), we are leaving it. Unless you have a friend with a great sense of humor like Susan’s, you might not want to call it “Funeral Salad.” Only in the deep South would we be crazy enough to actually call a dish, “Funeral Salad.” 

Chicken Spectacular 

3 cups cooked chicken (or the meat from a large fryer)
1 package Uncle Ben’s Wild & White Rice, cooked per instructions
1 can cream of celery soup
1 (2oz.) jar diced pimentos, drained
1 medium onion, chopped (or a couple of T dried onion pieces)
2 cans French style green beans, drained
1 cup mayonnaise
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
salt & pepper to taste
Chicken broth
Sliced almonds 
Mix all ingredients, adding enough chicken broth to make juicier if desired.  Pour into 2 ½ or 3 quart rectangular casserole dish or divide into two smaller ones. Before baking, sprinkle sliced almonds over top.  Bake 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees.  To freeze, do not cook before freezing and add almonds when ready to bake. 

Fruit or Funeral Salad 
1 large can fruit cocktail, drained
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
8 oz. sour cream
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Fold sour cream, marshmallows and cheese into drained fruit.  Chill well.  It’s better if made the day before serving.

Wasn’t that wonderful?  Leave your compliments here or at Canape’s place.  She’s having a rather dark day today, but I know she’ll be back in fightin’ action soon.  After all, her BABY will arrive sometime in the next FOUR WEEKS!  Hurrah!


9 Responses to Feeding a cancer patient (guest post!)

  1. Stimey says:

    This was really informative. I have so many good wishes for all three of you ladies involved in this post.

    (I kept trying to find a way to jokingly make a comment about funeral salad, but couldn’t find a way to do so in print without sounding like a complete jerk, so you’ll have to go without my wit today.)

    I’ve been thinking about you a lot in the last couple days, WM. I’m trying to send many happy, healthy vibes your way.

  2. Kat says:

    What a great post! The recipes sound absolutely wonderful too. Thanks so much.

    (you’re in my thoughts and prayers all the time)

  3. Lisa says:

    This is incredibly helpful. We wish all of you the greatest of everything in the days to come.

    My brother-in-law just set up family website to share some recipes and I’m going to make sure and add a search for the cancer patient foods too!

    All our LOVE from Vermont. Hope to be home soon to play with Widget and Little Bear!

  4. mcgearstella says:

    Thank you for sharing!
    What a great post!! And wonderful recipes!!

    Thinking of ALL of you!

  5. juliepippert says:

    This was fantastic…so helpful.

    Using My Words

  6. Karen says:

    My Mother has bladder and kidney cancer and she under went 4 sessions of chemo which consisted of 8 treatments all together. They were giving her 2 at a time. I was wondering what is GOOD for these patients to eat in order for her to keep it down?

  7. Dawn says:

    When I was pregnant, spicy things were awesome, and bland things made me gag … nausea is *such* a strange thing…

  8. Pass the Sauce says:

    Spicy all the way – chemo is a strange master

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