Nourishing Yourself as You Battle Cancer


As a Registered Dietitian, it’s easy for me to tell a cancer patient to eat well and make sure they get all their nutrients.

Being a cancer patient with little to no appetite and energy, however, makes that difficult to accomplish.

So what’s a patient – and their concerned loved ones – to do?

Eating well before, during and after cancer treatment can make you feel better, help you keep up your strength, lower your risk of infection, help you tolerate any side effects of your treatment and even allow you to recover faster. Take advantage of the times you do feel well and eat well-balanced meals during this time.

Here’s a multiple choice question for you: Does eating well mean:

A. Splurging on comfort foods
B. Skipping meals when you don’t feel well
C. Avoiding fruits and vegetables
D. Fueling your body with a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins and minerals.

That’s right. Answer D is the best solution in your efforts to conquer cancer. All of those are essential.

Some things to keep in mind as you recover or are helping a loved one to recover:

  • Extra protein, such as eggs, dairy foods, poultry and lean meat like fish may be helpful to heal tissues following surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • If you have been vomiting or have had diarrhea or aren’t eating much, you may need extra glasses of water.
  • If you want to use nutrition supplements or herbs, talk with your care team first to make sure it is safe and won’t interfere with your medical treatments.
  • If your food intake has been limited for an extended period of time because of symptoms and/or the effects of treatment, be sure to talk to your care provider or ask for a referral to speak with a registered dietitian.

The Orange Shake recipe, below, provides 300 calories and 12 grams of protein. It’s packed full of nutrients but is a small meal for someone who has little to no appetite.  If you aren’t a fan of orange juice, you can substitute any juice (apple, cranberry, mango, apricot nectar, etc.).


  • 2 tablespoons of nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (or substitute with any juice)
  • 3/4 cup of vanilla yogurt

Mix in blender until smooth and refrigerate.

About the Author

Sandra Harrison, MSA, RD, is Supervisor of Clinical Nutrition Services for Lakeland Regional Health.

View other low-fat recipes, such as Strawberry and Avocado SalsaLow-Fat Caesar Salad Dressing and Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Squash and Broccoli, on Lakeland Regional Health’s blog page.