When Heather* was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for Stage 3 breast cancer, she would often come home exhausted. Nausea would creep up on her in the afternoons and she spent hours praying that the room would just stop spinning. Her appetite all but disappeared and, along with losing her beautiful golden locks, she shed more than a couple of pounds. When it came time to try to make meals that she could keep down, that were high in calorie and nutritious, Heather just didn’t have the strength. As with many breast cancer patients undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatment, Heather was just too tired.
“People often ask me how they can help a loved one undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, and the first thing I tell them is how to stock the freezer,” said Shulamit Hurwitz, MS, RD CDN and former oncology nutritionist at NYU Cancer Center and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
If you have a loved one battling breast cancer, you can help them get the proper nutrition that they need to keep their body healthy and in fighting shape to battle breast cancer. Shulamit Hurwitz offers some easy tips to help your loved one get the proper nutrition during chemotherapy treatments:
- Soups that eat like a meal – When you’re nauseous, it’s really difficult to eat protein. While clear broth like chicken soup may be soothing, it will fill you up and give you very little nutrition. Soups that eat like a meal are a much better choice. Adding chicken or meat in little pieces into a soup is a good way to get necessary protein. Also, pureed soups tend to go down much easier, and you can add turkey, chicken and beef to vegetable soups before pureeing them in a blender. If eating bits of chicken or meat are too much to handle, add protein powders that are heat stable to clear broth soups like chicken or beef.
- Smoothies aren’t just for breakfast – Fruit smoothies and shakes are easy to make and light on the stomach. For breast cancer patients who can handle dairy, add in Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is very high in protein. Also make healthy choices with the fruits you choose for your smoothie; choose berries such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries which are very high in antioxidants. Don’t forget to add an additional scoop of protein powder to your smoothies!
- Snack on nuts – Nuts are very high in calories and protein, and a great snack option for breast cancer patients undergoing treatment. Even if you don’t have a big appetite, 10 almonds can go a long way. Also try adding a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter to a slice of toast for breakfast.
- Avocado is easy to digest and high in calorie – This easy to make vegan avocado green tea ice cream is really great when the appetite for a meal just isn’t there. Otherwise, like with almond and peanut butter, a tablespoon on toast or crackers will go a long way.
- Ginger is a natural anti-nausea herb that you can use in a variety of great dishes. Chicken soup cooked with a knob of ginger will go a long way, and might even awaken an appetite! This recipe from Bon Appetite can be made in advance and frozen in individual portions. Just go easy on the kosher salt; you don’t want to over salt the soup!
- Freeze in individual portions in BPA free, microwave safe containers – Chemotherapy is extremely tiring to many breast cancer patients, so having nutritious meals that don’t take a lot of time to prepare is key. With frozen meals, all they have to do is take it from the freezer and warm it up in the microwave for a hearty, quick and easy meal.
- Drink water between meals – Drinking water is extremely important but not at mealtime because it will fill you up. Make sure you drink plenty of water in between meals, but not too close to mealtime that it will affect your appetite.
- Avoid metal silverware – A lot of women undergoing treatment for breast cancer have reported having an unpleasant, metallic taste in their mouth. Eating on metal silverware can actually exacerbate that side effect and make it difficult for them to eat. Stock your friend’s house with paper and plastic goods and utensils during chemotherapy; it will help with the metallic taste and make clean up quick and easy!
- Keep something in your pocketbook – if you are able to go out for an hour or two, make sure you have something to snack on in your purse. Nuts, cereal bars, power bars, and granola bars, are all good choices for on the go snacking. It’s important to keep eating to keep up your strength and calorie count, so make sure you are always prepared with some snacks in your purse!
Do you want to cook a meal for a friend or loved one undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer? Try this delicious lemon chicken orzo soup recipe. This soup can also be pureed and frozen in advance!
*Not her real name