After receiving a cancer diagnosis, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. You’re likely inundated with information about your cancer, treatment options and prognosis. If nutrition is the last thing on your mind, that’s understandable. Although, what you feed your body is an important part of cancer care.

At Willamette Valley Cancer Institute, patients have access to nutrition counseling services with registered dietitian, Shelly Kokkeler. Having specialized in oncology for more than 30 years, Shelly supports patients through the various stages of their cancer journey.

“If I can talk with patients before they start treatment and say, ‘these are the side effects that can happen, and here’s what you can do to help control them,’ it prepares patients and gives them some tools to reduce their anxiety, “ Shelly says.

Proper nutrition aids healing
There’s scientific proof that eating the right foods, at the right time, can have a significant impact on how your body heals and recovers. Eating well during cancer treatment can help you:

•    Boost your immune system
•    Increase your energy
•    Decrease risk of infection
•    Recover more quickly

Your cancer treatment may trigger side effects that cause problems with eating and digestion, such as:

•    Loss of appetite
•    Inflammation and sores in the mouth
•    Changes in the way food tastes
•    Nausea
•    Vomiting
•    Diarrhea
•    Constipation

Shelly advises patients on how to add or remove certain foods in their diets to help ease discomfort.

The balancing act
In order for your body to operate at optimal level, it’s important to get enough of the proper nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, good carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein.

“Protein is important because while chemotherapy and radiation work to destroy the cancer, they also do damage to the body’s normal cells,” Shelly says. “Protein provides the building blocks for repairing those cells.”

In addition, consuming the proper amount of calories provides the body energy, which can help reduce fatigue.

After treatment
Once you’ve finished treatment, nutrition continues to play an important role in your health and well-being. Patients often meet with Shelly after completing treatment to discuss dietary changes that can reduce the risk of recurrence.

“I try to help them look at what they’re currently doing and create some goals and make some lifestyle changes to reach those goals,” Shelly says.

She shares with patients a concept called The New American Plate, which was created by the American Institute for Cancer Research. The guidelines suggest you aim for meals made up of 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans and 1/3 (or less) animal protein. Physical activity is also recommended—30 minutes or longer most days of the week.

If you’d like to consult with Shelly about a plan that fits your needs, ask your doctor or nurse for a referral, or call 541-681-4945 to make an appointment.