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Healthy Living Speaks With Sloan-Kettering Clinical Dietitian and Social Worker

Having cancer poses several challenges for the patients diagnosed and their families. Rigorous treatments can take a negative toll on a patient’s physical and emotional well-being, as well as their relationships with their families. However, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, whose main hospital and inpatient care is located in New York City, has three comprehensive outpatient sites on Long Island (Rockville Centre, Commack, and Hauppauge) with support services that help patients and their families during this difficult time.

Proper nutrition is essential to all patients diagnosed with cancer and emphasized by the MSKCC sites on Long Island’s dietary services for all patients. Many times, cancer treatments leave patients feeling too weak and stressed to eat.

“People can be very scared when they’re diagnosed with cancer,” said MSKCC clinical dietitian Laura Kelly, “but we do not recommend any drastic dietary changes. We ask that they stay well nourished.”

The Commack and Rockville Centre sites have dietitians available, while the Hauppauge site has a nutritional consult for patients. These include one-on-one consultations that help patients create a proper nutrition plan based on their medical history, diagnosis, and treatments. Regardless of the diagnosis, Kelly notes some general nutritional tips for cancer patients:

 Drink plenty of fluids. Having at least eight cups of water or proper fluids a day helps patients maintain energy when undergoing treatment. These fluids help keep the body hydrated so that the medications and treatments can take proper effect.

Have a balanced diet. Good amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products help patients maintain their proper weight despite rigorous treatments. Kelly also emphasizes that protein must be implemented in diets of cancer patients. Protein assists the body in producing tissue and immune cells that can counter painful treatment side effects.

Limit intake of dietary supplements. Patients should not take large amounts of dietary supplements like vitamins and herbal medicines. “These can interfere with treatment and can do more harm than good,” said Kelly.

Besides affecting their physical health, cancer greatly influences patients emotionally and mentally. The MSKCC sites on Long Island provide several social support services. “Sometimes people don’t realize it’s not over when it’s over because side effects, often psychological and emotional, can linger afterwards,” said Karen Hartman, a senior clinical social worker who oversees social work services at MSKCC’s Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey sites. “Our goal is to help people get through [their diagnosis] and the aftermath.”

 The social support services range from one-on-one sessions to support groups. MSKCC social workers facilitate one-on-one sessions that help patients and their families address difficult questions they may have regarding how to deal with the cancer diagnosis, treatment, and the aftermaths that may occur.

Meanwhile, the sites have different programs including support groups for patients with similar diagnoses and treatment plans. For example, MSKCC Commack has a support group for patients with lymphedema, and MSKCC Rockville Centre hosts a support group for lung cancer patients. Another popular support group comes in the form of American Cancer Society’s Look Good… Feel Better, a program run by volunteer beauticians that teach make-up and skincare techniques for women with cancer. This program is available monthly at the Rockville Centre and Commack sites.

There are also plenty of MSKCC programs for families and friends of cancer patients. These include video conferences that address topics like care giving and communicating with family members after the completion of cancer treatments with other MSKCC sites in New York City, New Jersey, and Westchester County. Additionally, there is a survivorship program done through a series of three sessions available at MSKCC Commack both in the spring and fall.

Taking advantage of both the nutritional and social support services for cancer patients at the MSKCC sites will bring ease to both the patients and their families as they undergo the difficulties of dealing with a cancer diagnosis. “Cancer is a crisis that happens not just to the patients but also to their families,” Hartman said. “We are here to support the treatment teams, the patients, and the patients’ families.”