Resource Guides Help Patients Cope With Eating Challenges


For patients receiving treatment for oral and head and neck cancer, maintaining adequate nutrition is an ongoing challenge.

For patients receiving treatment for oral and head and neck cancer, maintaining adequate nutrition is an ongoing challenge. For clinicians looking for ways to support these patients, Eat Well Stay Nourished: A Recipe and Resource Guide for Coping with Eating Challenges, Volumes 1 and 2, published by Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC), may be the answer.

While the prevalence of head and neck cancers is relatively low (approximately 3% to 4 % of all cancers diagnosed), the impact on those affected is great. These challenges include aesthetics, as well as speech, smell, hearing, and sight issues, in addition to swallowing problems—underscoring the need for a resource to support those with head and neck cancer and those who care for them.

The recipes in both books were compiled and edited by Nancy Leupold, SPOHNC founder, president, and an oral cancer survivor herself. The cookbooks feature recipes submitted by survivors and family members, making them a valuable asset for oral, head, and neck cancer patients as well as for caregivers and healthcare professionals involved in their care.

In addition to a host of appealing and nutritional recipes designed to help patients maintain their caloric intake, both volumes contain information concerning the challenges of eating and swallowing and good nutrition authored by well known swallowing therapists, oncology nurses, and oncology dieticians. Both volumes contain “Tips From the Pros” by survivors. Volume 2 also has a chapter about fortifying ingredients for weight gain.

“For most of us, I don’t believe we fully appreciate all that food conjures up and ultimately means to each of us and the contexts within our family, friends, and even cultures. Food is oftentimes more than just sustenance. For many, it is a comforting memory of being with a parent or grandparent as they baked pies or of homemade pasta sauce simmering on the stove on a cold winter day—a solace shared, a joy and a way of communicating,” explained Jennifer Witt, RN, MSN, OCN, Stoddard Care Coordinator, UnityPoint Health, at the John Stoddard Cancer Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

“For others like Roger Ebert,” she continued, “whose cancer and subsequent treatments had left him with the inability to eat, chew, swallow or speak, as he wrote in his book Life Itelf, ‘what’s sad about not eating is the experience. The loss of dining itself. The jokes, the gossip, laughs, arguments, and memories of time spent together with friends and loved ones. Meals are when we get a lot of our talking done—certainly most of our recreational talking.’”

Witt, who facilitates SPOHNC’s Des Moines chapter, urged practitioners “to acknowledge and bear witness to the people behind these diseases and appreciate their lived experience so that we can better support the patient’s quality of life during and long after the treatments have ended, as patients are rediscovering themselves and redefining who they are within their new ‘normals.’”

“Survivorship begins the day one is diagnosed with cancer. Transitioning from active treatment to surveillance represents a distinct phase of survivorship with distinct needs that we want to support patients to both thrive and flourish in,” she continued. “It encompasses helping patients to regain not only the physical functioning of swallowing and taste, but also the psychosocial impact of the diagnosis itself and the fears of recurrence and questioning of how they now move forward.”

“This resource is a great tool to help in our collaborative efforts to encourage, empower, and support patients and families on their journey along the entire continuum of their illness and survivorship.”

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