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Things I Learned as an Oncology Dietitian

This month is big for JuliENERGYnutrition, LLC because we are taking it to FULL TIME business hour availability. But, before I close the chapter of my split career, I wanted to share my experiences and insight gained from working as an oncology dietitian.

Working as an oncology RD isn’t just about helping people manage their nausea associated with chemotherapy. It’s about being close to people during one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. It’s about sitting with someone, learning about their life, and integrating healthy habits into a changing body. It’s about empathy. Sometimes I would sit with my patients and not even talk about food at all. I would laugh with them, I would cry with them, I would be on their journey with them, too.

They say, “not to get too attached,” but there is no such thing. I was one time in a room with a woman and her husband, celebrating their 65th year of marriage together. They were genuinely so happy and still in love. Although my patient was sick and dying, they still managed to give me advice on marriage and relationships.

“Never give up.” I had another patient with colon cancer. A previous hospital told him he was at the end of his rope, but he got a second opinion. Although it’s been a long journey and he still has more to go, he just received news that the cancer is gone. We have tried every nutrition strategy under the sun with him. He is at a point where he is receiving nutrition through his veins and drinking clear liquids only. He wears a backpack with his nutrition in it which is connected to his port … and he still rides his bike 30 miles a day and shows up to treatment with a smile.

It’s a “new normal.” Something I overheard a colleague of mine say was that we don’t revolve our lives around cancer; we fit cancer into our lives. How powerful is that message? I had a patient who is getting maintenance chemotherapy every two weeks. She and her husband have this whole rigmarole down to a tee: they even factor in time for the side effects she gets every single treatment… and still they sat with me, told me about their growing family, and live life to the fullest.

Now for the million-dollar question...

Can nutrition prevent cancer? ... Maybe. I have read the research, and my conclusion is that if you can eat the least processed food, the most fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, anti oxidants, and plant-based diet as you can, you will certainly have the upper hand.

I have had patients walk into my office explaining their perfect diet and wondering what went wrong. Nothing went wrong; there are just other factors that influence cancer. If anything – being the perfect picture of nutrition will only help you fight even harder.

In conclusion, here is just a summary of the wisdom I have gained and the “things I learned as an Oncology Dietitian.” The spirits of my patients will live on in me forever.

1. The human body is resilient, powerful, and capable of so much more than we think.

2. The power of positivity is REAL.

3. Even in the most painful or vulnerable times, people still have the capacity to be pleasant, genuine and insightful.

4. You never really know what someone is going through.

5. To live life to the fullest and chase your dreams because we don't know what tomorrow will bring.

*If you or a family member is struggling with nutrition during cancer – I am available for consultations as part of my private practice, JuliENERGYnutrition, LLC.

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