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Coping With Cancer, Chemo, Radiation & Food Changes

Hopefully we can help each other & loved ones to come up with recipes or ideas during the difficult times of chemo treatments & afterwards.

I was thinking perhaps we could start with some recipes that we could "dress down" for those who aren't tolerating spicy things or "dress up" for those who need the extra taste to enjoy flavor. Soup is an ideal thing to accomplish this. I am sure you all have many other ideas. Please share.

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  1. It is my experience that some people react differently during chemo and radiation treatments. Soup can be ideal as you said.

    Carrot Ginger Soup
    The ginger may help to soothe a stomach but you can control how much ginger for those that may find it too spicy.

    A loaded baked potato which doesn't have a recipe but can be filled with the toppings that they feel they can eat.

    Baked Potato Soup as well

    A simple snack: home made hummus dressed up or just regular with just some pita.

    Something as simple as baked chicken and rice with a low key veggie might help as well.

    Ratatouille over polenta

    A friend of mine after going through radiation for a brain tumor found comfort in milk shakes. If the person is able to consume milk and dairy this is always fun. and Pudding for dessert would be another option.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sandwich_Sister

      Great ideas - the baked potato soup sounds great to me - can be bland or kicked up with different toppings.

      In fact, I am hoping to think of other things for potatoes - they last longer than other produce. Sweet potatoes too!

      1. re: cstout

        baked sweet potato fries

        you might be able to get away with a shepard's pie with some mashed potatoes if you used ground bison, which is leaner and probably less agitating.

        A mock chicken pot pie with a mash potato crust instead of a regular crust might be good too.

        Scalloped Potatoes

        baked sweet potato home fries

      2. re: Sandwich_Sister

        Glad you mentioned radiation, I forgot about that. Yes, those folks have their own set of food problems too.

        So much of this is uncharted territory & we are left helpless as to how deal with these major lifestyle changes. If only it were cut & dried.

        1. re: cstout

          I think this a great launching point. and you can listen to them and they will tell you want makes sense for them.

          and know that they appreciate the food even if they don't feel like eating much of it.

      3. I'm just linking to a couple of previous threads (that you've already seen, cstout) for easy access:

        cstout's thread on frozen vegetables: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9689...

        Jim Leff's thread ChemoHounding http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7443...

        Peg's thread on Neutropenic diet:http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9265...


        1 Reply
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Thanks for posting the extra links DQ

        2. Interesting topic

          My dad is on his 6th and thankfully last week of Chemo. It seems he cannot eat anything but ensure and shakes right now, and not even much of that.

          I brought him some Lancaster Cty whole milk Amish yoghurts when I visited this weekend in hopes that it is something calorie dense and nutritious he can get down. I am hoping as he recovers after the cessation of treatment that I can find other foods to bring when I visit that he can tolerate.

          Oddly he has been coping by cooking for others - visiting family from overseas - for the last weeks and has been cooking for them every night while they are out and about in NYC and environs all day - while It may sound like a burden it is clear that he got great pleasure from this effort.

          3 Replies
          1. re: JTPhilly

            Wow, cooking for others - wish I had the strength to do that. I can certainly see his point in doing so - he is watching others eat the foods he can't eat at this time. What a wonderful & generous way to share.

            One thing I have learned is not to stock up on any one food in large quantities. I was so craving some Ensure & went out & bought tons of it. Guess what? Can't stand the stuff now. Even tried it frozen. Lost the ticket so can't return it - wish I was close enough to send your dad my stash.

            1. re: JTPhilly

              I was surprised my friend with the brain tumor liked dairy for some reason I thought she wouldn't.

              Yoghurt or yogurt smoothies would be a great idea especially when they don't always feel like solid foods.

              1. re: JTPhilly

                That is really great!!!!! Sounds like he is on the upswing!!
                What has he been making?...Maybe he wants to post here as well...?

              2. I've cooked for a handful of people going through treatment and they all had different reactions and tolerances (some of which changed part way through the process,) some also had different lists of things they were told to avoid during treatment by their doctors. Some examples are that one was told to eat low carb to keep her insulin down because it made the treatment more effective, another was told to avoid all soy, one got mouth ulcers and couldn't eat anything and had to go all liquid as high calorie as possible. So, please share that with the people cooking- it's really helpful to have lots of information. :)

                4 Replies
                1. re: weezieduzzit

                  This is sort of similar to what I have experienced. It really is different from person to person.

                  One person reported a metallic taste to most or certain foods. and had to work hard to eat.

                  Another was fine with soups that were bland

                  and one other seemed to like milk shakes.

                  It's important to listen to the individual and see what fits for them.

                  But nothing wrong with throwing out some ideas and seeing if anything works.,

                  1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                    I totally agree, it's just my PSA and plea for information as someone who cooks for other people frequently. :)

                    1. re: weezieduzzit

                      Yeah I think it's important for people to know that sometimes they are really sick or have restrictions. But they do appreciate the efforts.

                      I do find it interesting that dairy seems to work for a lot of them. My friend went from her happy hour to milk shake hour. I always found that funny and a blessing that she was being so positive.

                      1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                        That's great and I'll remember milkshakes if my neighbor has to go through more treatment this summer (poor thing has had so many complications and additional surgeries.) She was very small to start with and the more weight she lost the harder the treatments were on her. There are all sorts of things that are high calorie that can be added to milkshakes!

                2. This asparagus soup with parmesan custards worked real well. In fact, frequently Mom ate just the custards while she was going through chemo. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                  In general, frequent snacks worked best--never too empty, never too full. We also tried to pack calories/nutrition into food without it being greasy.

                  Amazingly, she also loved (and tolerated) mild tamales (still does).

                  But it was impossible to predict what would appeal from day to day or hour to hour. And she felt overwhelmed if there were too many choices in her fridge.

                  Best of luck and smoothest of seas to everyone along this journey.

                  1. I found that when cooking for two family members undergoing chemo that it was most important to listen to them. Likes and dislikes changed often; there is no 'one size fits all' answer to what to eat during cancer treatments.

                    For each of them, at some point, they said meat tasted like metal so I did not serve meat during those times. When soft textures were desired, richly buttered pureed potatoes mixed with carrots were a big hit.
                    Applesauce, with or without cinnamon [this changed as well] worked nicely.
                    Sometimes icy cold food was the best while other times, it was warm food.
                    Neither ever wanted spicy because of painful mouth sores so anything even mildly acidic was nixed as well.
                    One wanted very small portions frequently while the other ate somewhat 'normal' sized portions.
                    As I recall, bland food was the most widely tolerated. Small pasta shapes (orzo and the like) or rice were popular. When times were pretty good, these could be flavored with a cheese sauce or, when times were more rocky, they worked well almost plain.
                    Custards were a hit as well. They could be either sweet or savory and varied from traditional vanilla to a mild garlic with a red bell pepper puree (the puree worked very well once - lots of lip-smacking appreciation - and was never requested again).

                    Generally, thinking about or talking about F-O-O-D was not popular. Like I stated at the beginning of this post, listen to the patient and proceed with love and patience.

                    1. Maybe some plain cooked rice in the fridge.

                      For something sweet - add milk, cinnamon & sugar & warm up.

                      Could add & egg & scramble with a couple of veggies.

                      Cook a chicken breast & add rice & any veggies to make a tasty broth.

                      1. I have already posted my foods for chemo on some other thread which I suspect is included in the links above. So far, I have made food for six people undergoing different therapies, plus myself for the 8 months that I was the patient.

                        There is no one size fits all. Heck, each patient needed/wanted something different during each of the cycles so planning ahead was always difficult. My uncle went on a steak tip binge for weeks, and then never touched them again. He moved on to whole grain breads.

                        Raw veggies are pretty much off the table for at least the first 7 days after an infusion. Too much chance for contamination and just not worth the risk. I can also say that not ONE of the people I have cared for wanted veggies. They wanted protein and they wanted carbs. As the months went by, they all needed more salt to taste anything.

                        Funny, none of us wanted soup and we are generally soup lovers. Just far too much work, spoon after spoon after spoon, to get the needed calories. Actually, my sister during cancer no 3 wanted soup but that was so she could avoid that feeding tube for as long as possible. After the mouth surgery, solid foods were not possible.

                        I was given huge amounts of steroids as pre-meds and then for the first three days. I used that crazy energy to make whatever food interested me at that moment. Somehow that worked for me. Far better use of the energy than organizing my magazines, which I also did.

                        Good luck!

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: smtucker

                          Your reply was so enjoyed - I absolutely can relate to many of your comments. Glad you kept your sense of humor.

                          Yep, I too get a big dose of steroids & the first 3 days are heaven, I want to eat the wallpaper off the walls & feel like maybe this chemo won't get a hold of me (ha, what a mistake). On the 3rd day like clockwork, the retching starts & anything food related starts my stomach churning for sure.

                          On the first go round I made a big batch of chicken caldo & thought I would have that after each chemo. One taste of it has caused me get the heebie jeebies just thinking about it. I was told not to eat your favorite food after chemo since you might end up hating it afterwards. That's a fact. Now I just prefer a simple broth at first - no heavy soups at all.

                          After the third day, all energy disappears & I become intimate friends with the commode & the bed. Seven or more days of pure hell & then I am pulling myself together again. Then I start lurking around on chowhound to see what you all are cooking. On the third week, I face another treatment & everything starts all over again.

                          I had no idea others were suffering from the same symptoms & strange cravings. Having no one to discuss this with, I just thought I was out of the norm.

                          1. re: cstout

                            If you want, send me an email. I know a place with lots of people who are all going through this and food is a big topic of discussion.

                            1. re: smtucker

                              email is charlottestout7@gmail.com

                            2. re: cstout

                              I did not realize that you were going through this, I thought you were supporting a family member. May you keep your strength and courage, do not give up. You might ask your oncologist for medication for the nausea, it helps. My prayers are with you.

                              1. re: Ruthie789

                                Ruthie789, thanks for your kind words. Yes, I have a shoebox full of pills, nausea meds work once in a while.

                                I started this thread to get some ideas of recipes that we might share to get through the bad days when nothing tastes good. After hearing that everybody is so unique in their appetites, I guess we have to fight this on a one to one basis.

                                Jello or little pudding cups might help. Also, I try to keep a little something that is sweet or savory, bland or spicy to get all bases covered.

                                Yes, the cancer people are all fighting - please, no one give up.

                                1. re: cstout

                                  I didn't CS, am living with it. I bypassed the chemo as mine was caught quite early but radiation was my treatment. Spent sometime in oncology-radiology, have friends that have gone through chemo, no wonder people post joyous signs that they are done their chemo on FB, chemo is tough. Keep strong, keep fighting.

                                  1. re: cstout

                                    I worked in oncology for years, and I agree that each patient is unique. If you're in the U.S., check the American Cancer Society's publications--there are some specifically for nutrition and eating tips during chemo and/or radiation.

                                    Also, consider asking your MD for a referral to a registered dietician who can help tailor palatable ideas to your situation and food tolerances.

                                    Also, I recall one wife who was thrilled that her husband (the patient) had a craving for her famous pot roast. By the time it was ready, he couldn't tolerate even one bite. We need lots of patience and a sense a humor to get through these times.

                                    1. re: pine time

                                      Honestly, there are few situations in life that couldn't benefit from patience and a sense of humor. (And lots of other things, too, of course, but patience and a sense of humor should sort of be the baseline, to the extent you can muster it up.)


                            3. I'm on chemo now. Taste is a big problem...to me, everything tastes "chalky". I find that dry foods are very difficult to eat..I go for pastas a lot, soups. I still cook for my family. It's very frustrating to hear them say how good the food is when it I can't taste it. I'm past the mouth sore stage, so I prefer spicy foods..that is the only sensation I perceive well enough...sweet also. It had been worse...at the beginning, everything tasted burnt or bitter.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: EricMM

                                EricMM, that's great you are cooking for your family - you have a strong constitution to do that after chemo.

                                Double yes about the sweets, I never even gave sweets a second thought in years past, now I see a doughnut or ice cream & think how wonderful it must taste. Even licorish candy sounds good - something I would not get near.

                              2. Honestly, as someone who went through chemo what I wanted and could tolerate changed daily. Additionally chemo regimes are so different depending on the type of cancer and individual reactions vary. My suggestion is to be flexible, patient and follow the lead of the person having treatment.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: rasputina

                                  Also, getting small servings of the food seems to help. A big bowl or plate of something sometimes looks overwhelming & then nothing looks good.

                                  1. re: cstout

                                    Good point. For me, 2 oz of food every 2 hrs was the only way to keep that food where it belonged.

                                2. When my brother was going through chemo, he wanted very plain things. In particular, he asked for roast chicken and white rice.

                                  1. I just made my Dad some French toast, he is quite ill and digests this well. He also likes a rice pudding which he finds comforting. I also think it wise to ask the person who is sick what they feel like eating. I have a friend who was micro-managing everything her husband ate (he is undergoing chemo) and he was getting fed up and not eating. My advise to her ask him what he likes and let him eat it.
                                    For people going through radiation some snacks might be called for, while waiting around and travelling to and from the hospital. Some healthy muffins, bars.
                                    Puddings, popsicles, jello, all good items to have on hand for light snacks for chemo patients.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Ruthie789

                                      Sometimes friends or family try too hard to help out, but we must remember that it is stressful for them too & sometimes their intentions are misguided.

                                      Food is a lifeline & the other person gets a feeling of helping their loved one through food. It is life changing situation for all involved & hard for each to cope with feelings they have never experienced before.

                                      Your advice to her was very good.

                                      Everyone, just be patient & give love & understanding as much as possible.

                                      1. re: cstout

                                        Cancer is not easy to go through, I understand only too well. There are many support groups on Facebook which can be very uplifting. I hope your loved one gets the best treatments and care that is possible, and that you are well supported through this.

                                    2. Perhaps something store bought may be of convenience for waiting time. I in general do not like protein bars but do like Luna brand, White Chocolate Macadamia Flavour bars, or can good quality protein bars be made? The protein is important to maintain weight if that is a concern.

                                      1. Cstout,

                                        I didn't know you were battling Cancer. until I read through everything.

                                        I hope you find a good balance. May be days you don't feel well enough to eat much, and maybe days you will.

                                        I wish you all the luck in the world and good vibes, and thoughts as well.

                                        Back when I was in college I knew a girl who made one hell of a pot brownie. No Politics here I'm just saying if you find yourself in one of the states for medical marijuana you might want to try and see if it helps. I hear they have some major baked goods and ice creams.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                          My SIL has just rec'd her 2nd NED!! after ovarian cancer.
                                          No Evidence of Disease. We are very grateful.

                                          After many rounds of out-patient Chemo, often delayed because her weight had dropped to unacceptable low and her blood count was too low. If she wasn't able to keep her weight and strength up she would have to be admitted to hosp. for chemo. We urged trying M. along with her son.

                                          With full cooperation of her MDs (including oncologists) she was greatly helped by medical marujuana. It helped her stabilize weight loss and slowly gain back by stimulating appetite and suppressing her terrible nausea.
                                          We fully supported her. The MDs were quietly supportive.

                                          Food tolerance shifted day-to-day and often hour by hour. Things she could hold at the beginning of chemo were too much just after, and vice versa.
                                          She had a lady helping her who would make small amounts of many kinds of high-nutrition,calorie dense foods and freeze them. Sometimes just a Tablespoon at a time. but that was enough and she kept going.

                                          I cannot say strongly enough that M. was absolutely critical to her strength and weight gain. Appetite and ability to keep food down is a major problem that M. can seriously help with.

                                          She is doing well, likes her New Hair and we are so happy.

                                          everyone on this thread will be in my prayers.

                                          1. re: kariin

                                            Thank you for replying with such a heartfelt and informative message.

                                            I hope to hear more stories about how medical marijuana helps others.

                                            There is a push here in Florida and I think that if it can help people going through chemo, suffering with a life threatening disease then it's a good thing.

                                            I mean some things sound fun like that mile high ice cream shop. ;)

                                        2. I don't have any suggestions, only prayers and well wishes for those that generate the posts in this thread.

                                          1. Tastes, cravings and tolerances can change from day to day, and month to month. If there is room in the pantry and freezer for small amounts of basic foods, then the person can combine as desired.
                                            Cooked rice, a few sauces (some non-acidic), fruit purees, berries; cooked and diced meats/chicken; seem to work ok for my mama. She also appreciated having single serve/small yogurt or pudding cups. Wasting leftovers is a stress-inducer. Ergo, putting up 4-oz/125ml jars of applesauce, plums or jam (which dad doesn't eat) is a practical consideration.
                                            We freeze bland-ish soups, mac/cheese, and shepherd's pie in 1 cup portions, and she actually really likes the Campbells low sodium soups.