This month we had the opportunity to interview Cara Anselmo, MS, RDN, CDN from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to get her perspective on the benefits of nutrition counseling for cancer patients. The highlight of this interview is to share a professional perspective on the importance of early and ongoing nutritional intervention. We at Meals to Heal equally recognize the benefits of nutritional counseling for the cancer patient throughout cancer treatment and beyond. As a result, we have launched a nutritional coaching service that will provide easy, affordable access to oncology certified registered dietitians.
Why did you go into the field of oncology nutrition?
It was an indirect journey. I spent some time after college working in public relations and medical education. I pursued my Master’s and registered dietitian degree from there because I remained interested in medicine, but I wanted to be working with individuals in a direct, person-to-person way. I’ve always been fascinated by food and nutrition; I love to eat, cook, and talk about it all. Eating is simple in a way: everyone has to do it. But eating has also grown so complicated, with lots of unknowns, worldwide changes in how we feed ourselves, and pseudo-experts telling people what to do. That’s where I come in, to help demystify and bring it back to something we do for both pleasure and health. I believe what we eat greatly influences who we are, how we feel physically and emotionally day-to-day, how we relate to others, and of course, our long-term health. In oncology nutrition, there’s a potential for huge impact on patients’ and their support-givers’ lives.
What are your goals when you speak with a patient?
First, to listen to the patient. What they tell me (and how they reveal it) is just as important as the information in their medical record. I try to offer a supportive space, free of judgment, but impress upon the patient their own responsibility and accountability. I want the information I provide to be clear, logical, and appropriate. Finally, I want the person to leave our meeting feeling understood, that they have a personal and practical plan for next steps, and that they can continue to reach out to me.
To get the most out of a counseling session with an oncology dietitian what do you recommend patients/caregivers do to prepare?
Come on time so we can use the full appointment time. Keep an open mind. Listen carefully first, then take notes and ask questions. Scribbling down recommendations is useless when you haven’t really heard and understood them in the first place. As with any medical appointment, it can be helpful to have a friend or family member along for moral support and a second set of ears.
What do you like most about your job? What do you like least about your job?
Most: Telling patients they can still enjoy a cup of coffee while they’re on chemotherapy. Seriously, that is a good part! Also, when I see a positive change in a person after our interaction compared to when they came arrived.
Least: Staying positive and proactive even when some other health care providers are dismissive of dietitians or don’t really understand what we do. I look forward to the day when all parties see us as a vital part of the health care team.
If there was one change to the field of oncology nutrition that you could recommend what would it be?
A better marriage of “complementary” and “Western” medicine. We are moving in that direction — where we encourage a patient to use chemotherapy to help shrink a tumor and yoga breath techniques to improve their appetite.
Cara Anselmo, MS, RD, CDN, is an outpatient dietitian at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and certified yoga instructor in New York City. Read her blog at CaraAnselmo.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.