Caring for someone with cancer
If you’re caring for someone with cancer, you may need to deal with eating issues caused by the cancer and its treatment.
It’s natural for you to worry about the diet of the person you’re caring for, but try to avoid conflict over food, as this may only increase their anxiety and yours.
There are many reasons why someone may not feel like eating. You can read about different ways of coping with eating issues in the Treatment side effects and nutrition. If the person you are caring for agrees, it may be helpful to go with them to their dietitian appointments.
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Try not to focus on how little the person is eating or drinking. Instead, gently encourage them to eat foods that are high in energy and protein when they are feeling well − this will help to make up for other times when they don’t eat much. When a person is having cancer treatment, so much is out of their control and they may feel that choosing what and when they eat is important. These tips may help you to support them:
- Serve small amounts of food at a time, and freeze the leftovers.
- Have ready-to-eat food available for when they feel like eating (e.g. tinned fruit, yoghurt, frozen meals).
- Keep mealtimes flexible and be willing to try new ideas or recipes.
- Make meals as enjoyable as possible – eat together, play music, set the table with candles and flowers.
- Follow safe food-handling practices when preparing food.
- Accept that during treatment the focus of the person with cancer may need to be on simply eating something, rather than on eating nutritious food all of the time.
The nutritional needs of children with cancer are different to adults, as children continue to grow and develop during treatment. Work closely with your doctor and dietitian − they will monitor your child’s weight and growth closely during treatment.
Be flexible – Let your child eat when they feel like it, not just at mealtimes. Be flexible in food choices, e.g. allow your child to have the same foods often or breakfast cereal for dinner if that’s what they prefer.
Offer nutritious food – Try not to make an issue of your child’s reluctance to eat. Instead, encourage them to eat nutritious, high-energy foods when they are feeling well.
Allow occasional treats – During treatment, any nourishment is better than none. Allow your child to eat fatty or sugary foods like cake, chips, chocolate and takeaway occasionally.
Eat at the table – Discourage your child from eating in front of the television as it can be distracting.
Make mealtimes fun – Focus on making mealtimes as relaxed as possible and see them as an opportunity to come together to share stories and discuss any problems. Regular family meals also give a child a sense of stability.
Being a carer can bring a sense of satisfaction, but it can also be exhausting and stressful. Trying to prepare food for someone who is having trouble eating can be especially challenging.
It is important to look after your own wellbeing, so you also need to eat well and get some exercise. Give yourself some time out and share your concerns with somebody neutral such as a counsellor or your doctor, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20. There is a wide range of support available to help you with both the practical and emotional aspects of your caring role.
Support services – Support services such as Meals on Wheels, home help or visiting nurses can help you in your caring role. You can find local services, as well as information and resources, through the Carer Gateway. Call 1800 422 737 or visit carergateway.gov.au.
Support groups and programs – Many cancer support groups and cancer education programs are open to carers as well as to people with cancer. Support groups and programs offer the chance to share experiences and ways of coping.
Carers Associations – Carers Australia works with the Carers Associations in each state and territory to provide information and services to carers. Call 1800 242 636 or visit carersaustralia.com.au.
Jenelle Loeliger, Head of Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rebecca Blower, Public Health Advisor, Cancer Prevention, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Julia Davenport, Consumer; Irene Deftereos, Senior Dietitian, Western Health, VIC; Lynda Menzies, A/Senior Dietitian – Cancer Care (APD), Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Janice Savage, Consumer.
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