Strength for the Journey

Cancer Resource Center offers nutrition counseling to help patients during treatment

Craig BrownThe day before Thanksgiving in 2020, Craig Brown, 52, learned that he had cancer. While it didn’t come as a surprise—he’d had swelling in the lymph nodes in his neck and his tongue—it was a shock.

Head and neck cancers like Craig’s often require patients to use a feeding tube during their treatment. So as Craig and wife Michelle gathered with family to celebrate on a holiday known for caloric overindulgence, the nutritional road ahead for Craig was unclear.

A resident of Marshalltown, Craig chose to have his care delivered at the William R. Bliss Cancer Center. Fortunately, the center offered an innovative program designed exactly for patients like him.

To help Craig maintain his strength for the cancer journey, he was referred to the Cancer Resource Center’s Food and Nutrition program. He met with registered dietician, Kelly Flater, to learn more about how he could maintain his caloric intake during the difficult treatment. Craig says it was incredibly helpful to have Kelly in his corner.

“I feel like I was cared for, not just treated for cancer,” Craig says. “Everyone was so nice and helpful. They wanted to keep me on the right path.”

Craig’s path included nearly three months of treatment. He had a feeding tube inserted early on in his treatment and was fed through it exclusively for more than a month.

Kelly says the goal of the Food and Nutrition Program is to help patients like Craig maintain their strength during what is often grueling treatment.

“Our goal is to reach as many people as possible to treat and prevent malnutrition, which is common during cancer treatment, especially when we are talking about head and neck cancers,” says Kelly who has worked with cancer patients in the program for nearly four years. “In general, patients that are able to stay nourished properly during treatment will feel better, tolerate treatment better, and have fewer hospitalizations and breaks in treatment.”

In the last three years the demand for the program—which is provided at no cost to patients as the result of private gifts to the Mary Greeley Foundation—has consistently grown. Between July of 2019 and June of 2020, there were 103 oncology nutrition appointments. That jumped to 171 last year, and in the first half of this year, there have already been 126 appointments.

According to Kelly, the feedback from patients has been positive.

“I make sure to individualize my counseling with patients and really meet them where they are,” she says. “By taking this approach, patients are open to the information and recommendations I am providing. Every now and then, a patient is overwhelmed, but we continue to reach out to those patients. Being consistent in communicating how nutrition services can be helpful at different points during their treatment helps support those patients and it opens the door to if they have concerns or needs later.”

Craig feels fortunate to have worked with Kelly. He says he lost 50 pounds during his treatment but maintained a reasonable amount of strength. Craig quickly began to regain weight in the months after his treatment ended. He is now in remission and grateful for the excellent care he received in the Cancer Resource Center and from all his physicians, including his Ear, Nose and Throat specialist Jean Hermsen, DO, of McFarland Clinic.

“You never know what life is going to throw at you,” Craig says. “Our family has had some real hardships over the last five years, and this was just another wrinkle in there.”

“The only reason I did as well as I did is because they provided such great care to me and information that really helped me and Michelle deal with all of this,” he continues. “I would not have been able to do this on my own. They told me what I needed to do, and I did it. Things are better now because of them and because services like the Food and Nutrition Program exist.”

To learn more about the Food and Nutrition Program of the Cancer Resource Center, visit https://www.blisscancercenter.org/mgmc-mcfarland/resources-support/nutrition/. To make a gift in support of the programs and services of the Cancer Resource Center, visit https://www.mgmc.org/foundation/donate/make-a-gift/.

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