Nutrition is an important part of cancer treatment. Eating the right kinds of foods during and after treatment can help you feel better and stay stronger, but making changes to your way of eating is not always an easy task. It can involve changing behaviours you may have had for years.
Megan Bailey, a registered dietitian in GRH’s cancer program, is trained to make these changes realistic. Small changes can have a huge impact over time. In the cancer centre, we don’t want to restrict eating; we want to work with you to improve the nutrition you can get from what you are already doing.
1. What made you decide to become a registered dietitian?
As a child I had a hard time eating well. As I grew up, I started changing my eating and exercise habits. This transformed my life. I was able to experience how food can affect how your body feels. This, along with the fact that I love food, helped spark my interest in becoming a dietitian so that I could help make a difference in the lives of others.
2. How do you support patients receiving treatment for cancer?
Cancer treatments often come with side effects that can affect someone’s nutrition and eating. The patients I usually see are at high risk for malnutrition or are already malnourished by the time we meet. My job is to:
1) teach people how food can help manage symptoms;
2) support people in eating well during all stages of treatment; and
3) help people make sense of changes to their nutrition needs with cancer.
My typical day ranges from seeing someone for bowel troubles to helping design a high protein meal for someone with severe taste changes.
3. How does being a dietitian in the cancer program differ from other programs in the hospital?
Because of the nature of working in an outpatient setting we have the chance to build long term, professional relationships with our patients. I love this aspect of my job. Our patients can be coming to the cancer centre for months or years, which is different than a typical short term stay at a hospital.
4. What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give someone wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle?
There is no ideal diet. Focus less on trying to stick to a diet plan, theory or eating perfectly 100% of the time. I know it’s hard to think that you actually CAN have everything in moderation, but it can be done! Eat in a way that allows you to lead your best life – physically and mentally.
5. What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your job?
I really feel rewarded when I have a patient come back for follow up and tell me that they benefited from my advice – whatever that advice may have resulted in – improvement in bowel function, weight gain, or increased energy.