Finding an appetite and dealing with cancer

MASON CITY, Iowa - Cancer treatments are notorious for impacting a patient’s appetite.

Mercy medical Center North Iowa has a program to help cancer patients maintain a healthy diet throughout their treatment.

Calories, protein and plenty of fluids help fuel the body to make it more receptive to treatments like chemotherapy and registered cancer dietitian Rita Sheldahl says this program helps patients overcome their struggles with their appetites and work towards being healthier.

“Sometimes you need to treat food like medication,” Sheldahl tells her patients, “it’s just as important as the medication that you’re taking in, so if you’re not eating, you’re not going to tolerate the chemo as well.”

Roughly 50 percent of the patients Sheldahl works with say that they struggle with appetite issues and weight loss.

When patients lose weight, they lose body mass necessary to fight off the cancer and to be receptive to treatment.

Sheldahl says that they rarely see patients complaining about being too hungry, it’s when patients complain about not being hungry enough to fill their body with the proper amount of nutrients.

“If you’re losing weight that means you’re probably not tolerating your chemotherapy as well so they need to adjust the doses so you can tolerate chemo therapy so we really are number one emphasis down there is to maintain their weight.”

Dietitians like Sheldahl try to incorporate anywhere for six to eight smaller meals throughout the day and she says that making meal time as appealing as possible is important for their patients to be enthusiastic about getting the nutrients they need.

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