T Nation

Post-Chemo Nutrition

My father was diagnosed with throat cancer last September, and underwent a treatment of chemotherapy and radiation to kill the cancer which ended last January. Since then, he’s had trouble eating for a couple of reasons, the first being that his taste buds were irradiated so everything tastes funny and the second being that it hurt to swallow food, so he kinda lives off of cold soup and soggy cereal.

Since he began his treatment, he’s lost over 70 lbs (he started at a fat 280 though), and his doctors are concerned at his continued rate of weight loss. More, his blood work shows that his red and white blood-cell count and thyroid are low (and by low, I mean just below the normal range, but it’s been there for the past half-year).

The doctors are concerned that the chemo might have destroyed/damaged his bone marrow, which is definitely possible. The other possibility is he’s just not eating enough for his body to recover. Or both.

Apparently, malnutrition is a potential side-effect of his cancer treatment, but the worst seems to be over. He can now swallow food without pain (sense of taste is still shot) and is willing to be advised on diet (before he was just struggling to eat period. Yes, a ‘see-food’ diet where you still lose weight. Funny what cancer does to you). I’m just not sure what to tell him.

I mean, yeah, healthy fats, low GI grains, fruits, vegetables, meat and fish, but that may or may not be what he needs given his blood work. It’s a step in the right direction, but maybe it could be better.

So what should I advise my father, who just finished treating his throat cancer with radiation and chemo about half a year ago and is striving to stave off malnutrition and increase his better his blood profile, to eat?

(all replies are welcome, but if you have specific training or experience in this field, point that out to me)

First, good to know the treatment went smooth.

Second, I’m no way an expert or anything but I’ll offer my 2 cents.

I really don’t think as for now to get him started, that you NEED to make him eat all fruits, veggies and lean meats, like say how a BBers eat.

Just to get his taste for food back, I think you can let him eat anything that he would like as long as it tastes good for him. I’m not saying you should feed him Wendys or McDs to him but you know what I mean.

Once he starts eating normally, then you can give him the GOOD stuff, assuming he used to eat healthy before and won’t reject them. It’s gonna be a grind but atleast the worst part is over. I’ll wait for experts or people with more insight, but that’s my 0.02.

Glad to hear the treatment (thus far) was a success.

I’m currently undergoing chemo, radiation, and avastin for a brain tumor (it came back). Speaking from experience, don’t obsess. I’ve been a strength coach and tennis pro for over 10 years and I understand sound nutrition but I’ve also learned to “pull in the rains” and relax.

Right now, take it day by day. Unfortunately, somedays everthing will sound good and other days everything he eats will taste bland.

Sounds like you already know good nutrition so help guide him but don’t over obsess ratios and how many meats, fruits, veggies, etc.

Bottom line: eat what will stay down. For a while the only thing that sounded good to me and would stay down was cereal.

Take it day by day. Hope this helps.

Thanks for the replies.

@ BLU Ninja, The doctors doubt his sense of taste will ever return. Or rather, he still tastes, but it’s incredibly messed up (sweet registers as bitter, spicy as painful, so he’s learned to pretty much ignore it). So he will most likely never get ‘his taste for food back’, or start ‘eating normally’. So anything he does is going to be forced. Which he’s willing to do because he’s a badass, the question is ‘do what?’.

@ Jason, I’m not too concerned about ratios or the like, I guess I’m wondering if there’s some type of silver bullet to heal bone marrow or increase red/white blood count. The food is staying down, and while his appetite hasn’t really returned, it no longer hurts him to eat. So both he and I count this as a golden opportunity. To do what? is still kind of undecided yet. Thank you for for sharing your experience.