Shelly Kokkeler’s love for cooking and her fascination with food science are what drive her passion to help cancer patients at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute. As a registered dietitian, board-certified in oncology nutrition, Shelly supports patients through their cancer journey and its various stages.

“Patients tend to lose their appetite with treatment, and it can be much harder to eat. They lose weight, and we want them to actually maintain their weight,” Shelly says. “So, I help them figure out ways to get adequate protein and calories, oftentimes in smaller volumes because they don’t tolerate large amounts.”

Cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, can cause side effects. Eating the right foods can help alleviate the severity of some symptoms, such as a loss of appetite, inflammation, sores in the mouth, fatigue and nausea.

“We use a lot of anti-nausea medications, but the type of food a person eats can also have an impact on alleviating nausea,” says Shelly. “With a sore mouth or a sore throat, you should avoid eating anything that’s spicy or acidy, because that can be irritating. I try to educate people about what kind of foods are going to be better tolerated.”

Shelly offers straightforward information that is simple for patients to implement. She also connects them with community resources, including Positive Community Kitchen (PCK), which provides nourishing meals to Eugene-area patients free of charge.

Shanna Hutton, PCK board president and former chef for the nonprofit, also leads a cooking class once a month to help patients eat nutritiously at home. “About a year ago, I started offering healthy cooking classes in collaboration with Oregon Cancer Foundation, Whole Foods, and Positive Community Kitchen. It’s important to me, personally, to offer an opportunity for people to come and be educated on healthy food and how they can incorporate healthy food into their daily diet.”

NOURISH: Food for Life classes are held on the first Thursday of the month, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., in the upstairs meeting room at Whole Foods Market, located at 353 E. Broadway in Eugene. The classes are free to attend, but registration is required.

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