October 14, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food (& maybe win a cookbook): Appetite help during cancer

Need or know someone who needs help with dinner during breast cancer treatment? Read on for your chance to win this book. (Good Books)

For most people who undergo treatment for breast cancer, the fight includes both a loss of appetite and a need to eat both to survive and heal.

It takes effort, says Dr. Molly O’Shea, a Troy pediatrician and Detroit News columnist who fought breast cancer herself last year. I love Dr. Molly’s practical advice, whether it be here, in her excellent recent piece on talking to your kids about having cancer or in her regular blog on pediatric issues, which has become a go-to for me now that I’m a mom.

For Breast Cancer Awareness month, I asked to share her tips for keeping herself eating when undergoing treatment. Here’s what she had to say:

When people comment about how good I look now, I joke that if they are looking for a good weight loss program they should really try Weight Watchers not breast cancer.

I lost 35 pounds and found eating a chore during my treatment; a couple of friends who also were undergoing treatment around the same time also found themselves struggling to work up an appetite. The combination of the whammy of a cancer diagnosis doing a number on your emotions combined with the effects of the medications, chemo, fatigue from radiation, and having to still slog through work and life can easily crush your appetite.

When I was in the throes of treatment, I did a variety of things to keep myself eating:


I let others cook for me and the kids. I love to cook but stopped cooking since I didn’t have the energy. Having other folks bring meals was tough at first for me at first (accepting help was tough in lots of ways, but especially in the food department) but in the end it was a really good thing for all of us.


I let my parents bring us carry-out and focused on getting dinner done, not getting dinner done perfectly. Carry-out is not at all a normal thing for us. But I didn’t worry whether or not we were eating enough veggies, instead focusing on getting everyone fed each night.


I kept my routines around meals in place, which helped encouraged me to eat even when I wasn’t hungry. I continued to have friends over every Wednesday night for dinner, but made the meals much simpler. By keeping the routine in place, I ate more than I would have otherwise.


I let myself eat my comfort foods as often as I wanted. Since I didn’t feel much like eating, I wasn’t really at risk of overdoing it, so I let myself eat Stouffer’s mac and cheese, for example, whenever the mood hit.


I didn’t try any sort of new diet during treatment. Lots of well-meaning people suggested I try eating some special foods or avoid things or eat all raw foods or whatever. I decided it was stressful enough to do what I was doing without adding a new eating regime to the plan. I could barely get myself to eat a hamburger (which normally I love), so getting me to eat something kooky wasn’t going to happen.


I allowed/encouraged my kids to cook so the smell of food cooking would still be in the house. This helped whet my appetite when I was exhausted and couldn’t cook myself.

Be kind to yourself during this rough patch, and remember to nourish your body and soul.

Thanks, Dr. Molly.

There’s only so much you can do to help a friend going through cancer, but meals for them or their family is one. As I wrote in the recent Let’s Talk Food on friend-in-need meals, I’ve seen this need bring out the very best in coworkers; there’s a good deal of joy in that kind of giving.

We want to share a special cookbook with someone who is, or has a friend or family member, undergoing treatment for breast cancer and could use some help in the kitchen. We’re giving away a copy of the “Fix-It and Forget-It Pink Cookbook” (More Than 700 Great Slow-Cooker Recipes). The book, a New York Times bestseller, includes very fast, simple recipes and a section featuring “inspiring survivor stories, breast health information and tips.”

If you’re interested, send an email to Eats&Drinks@detroitnews.com with “Pink Cookbook” in the subject line and your name and mailing address in the body. Enter only once by midnight Oct. 20. A winner will be chosen randomly from among entries.

If it’s Oct. 21 or later when you read this, the book winner will have been chosen — but if you choose to purchase the book yourself, at least $1 of what you pay will be donated to Avon Foundation for Women Breast Cancer Crusade.

Best of luck — in more ways than one.

Do you have any experience, strength and hope to share with us, and your fellow readers, about dealing with appetite challenges while undergoing treatment for breast cancer? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. You nee a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Maureen Tisdale, Detroit News Food Editor, will be keeping an eye out the next few days for your comments. You also can follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/reentiz. Join the discussion!