What should I eat during treatment? is a common query posed by patients. To that end, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about a unique intervention to address this issue by an interdisciplinary group of Israeli cancer professionals.1
They developed a program for patients receiving chemotherapy with or at risk for gastrointestinal symptom distress and nutritional compromise. Patients were invited to participate in a study where a consultation with a complementary integrative medicine (CIM) physician and attendance at cuisine workshops served as the intervention.
The physicianís consultation involved education and the use of complementary approaches. The safety and effectiveness of nutritional supplements was addressed and they utilized individually-tailored complementary approaches such as acupuncture, mind-body therapies, and music therapy. Additionally, biweekly 3-hour group sessions (three to six patients each) were then provided by a group of occupational therapists, dieticians, social workers, and spiritual care providers.
Sitting at a kitchen table, patients heard a review about the nutrients set before them (i.e., freshly picked herbs, spices, nuts, vegetables, and fruits) that included the existing scientific research on their effectiveness, potential toxicities, and interactions with conventional anticancer therapies. Lastly, recipes targeting the reduction of gastrointestinal distress and fatigue were shared and prepared by the group. A communal meal ended the session.
Six to 12 weeks following session participation, patients completed surveys which revealed a number of findings. Both nutrition-oriented and quality-of-life enhancements were delineated. These related to improvement in knowledge, attitude, and skill. Examples of positive narratives included the following:
- "I am more aware of foods to shop for and what I cook."
- "I pay more attention to my meal schedules, eating right, taking the time to think about my eating."
- "The workshops helped me feel that Iím not alone with my disease."
- "I can function better and feel more resilient."
Additionally, one-third of the participants perceived their gastrointestinal distress lessened as a result of workshop participation.
While the scientific rigor of this study bears questioning, this intervention offers testimony to the benefits of patient engagement in their care. Eating is one of the few things patients have control over. Eating has functional implications, is a social event, and can have religious implications especially when compromised. The type of intervention presented in this paper empowers patients to participate in their care rather than remain passive. This engagement in self-care represents an important opportunity to advocate for what many patients desire, namely, a way to help themselves beat their cancer.
- Ben-Arye E, Keshet Y, Shahbar IM, et al. (2015). The kitchen as therapy: Qualitative assessment of an integrative cuisine workshop for patients undergoing chemotherapy. Support Care Cancer, Sep 11.