Eating to combat cancer: The Providence Thrivorship program

In this article:

  • The Thrivorship program at Providence is specially designed to provide cancer patients and survivors with physical, mental and emotional support.

  • Rémy Leigh Peters, dietitian and cofounder of the Thrivorship program, offers guidance on holistic wellness and nutrition.

  • Nutrition counseling can help bust the myths about food and its relationship to cancer.

  • The Thrivorship program is part of the robust integrative medicine program at Providence.

[5 MIN READ]

Nutrition is a life-giving force for our bodies. It has the power to nourish the mind and spirit, too. Yet if we don’t eat the right things, food can also cause problems. One of the most critical times to focus on good nutrition is when you’re going through cancer treatments.

Treatments like chemotherapy, steroids and radiation can deplete certain nutrients. And when your body is already fighting a hard battle, cancer treatments can cause side effects that make eating and drinking a challenge: nausea, taste changes, diarrhea and mouth sores, to name a few. Fortunately, a balanced diet can restore nutrients and a time will come after treatment when eating becomes easier again.

A different mindset — one that’s positive and proactive — can come from learning to eat more mindfully, fighting food myths with facts and building a nutrition toolbox.

Rémy Leigh Peter​s, RDN, CNSC, is a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Providence Disney Family Cancer Center (DFCC). She’s also developed educational content alongside Dr. Ora Gordon, the founder of the center’s Thrivorship program. Her classes address holistic wellness and nutrition as part of an integrative care model for cancer patients and survivors. Peters has seen firsthand the toll that cancer takes on the body and offers resources to build her patients back up with nutrition.

“I want to help people change their mind about eating,” Peters says. “They can shift it to say, ‘I’m eating for my wellness. I’m eating to combat cancer.’ She believes that a different mindset — one that’s positive and proactive — can come from learning to eat more mindfully, fighting food myths with facts and building a nutrition toolbox.

Busting the myths about food and cancer

Over her years of counseling, Peters has encountered many myths that she’s determined to bust about cancer and nutrition. For instance, there is a lot of misinformation that says eating soy, sugar or fruit causes cancer.

I want to unravel the truth tangled up with some of the myths about cancer and nutrition. 

“My goal is to address some of the conflicting advice that’s out there about food, nutrition and cancer,” Peters explains. “There’s enough fear with cancer. I want to unravel the truth tangled up with some of the myths about cancer and nutrition. I don’t want to give false hope, but I do want to give the facts to educate you so you can make your own decisions.”

Here are a few of the common myths about cancer and nutrition, along with the truth.

 

Cancer myth: Avoid non-stick pans like Teflon.

Truth: Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a human-made chemical that’s used to make nonstick cookware, among other items. Research examined by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) advisory board shows that nonstick cookware is not a major source of exposure to PFOA. The EPA says that at this time, you don’t need to take steps to avoid being exposed to non-stick cookware.

 

Cancer myth: Don’t cook with a microwave.

Truth: A microwave can’t damage your body’s healthy cells because it doesn’t have enough power. However, some plastics that aren’t meant to be used in the microwave can leak chemicals into your food. You’ll want to use containers that are labeled safe for the microwave.

 

Cancer myth: Don’t eat sugar if you have cancer or want to prevent it.

Truth: All of our cells, whether they’re cancer cells or not, use glucose (blood sugar) for energy. But sugar doesn’t necessarily cause cancer cells to grow any faster. It would not be healthy to over-consume processed or added sugars that can be hidden in some drinks and packaged foods. Instead, aim to balance carb portions with protein and fat in order to minimize high circulating levels of insulin and IGF-1. Sugar (or carb) sources should contain fiber from whole grains, vegetables and fruits.

 

Cancer myth: Avoid eating soy if you’re a breast cancer survivor.

Truth: Studies of major populations show that eating one or two servings of soy a day doesn’t raise the risk of cancer recurrence. Studies also show that soy doesn’t interact with anti-estrogen medicines. Other benefits of soy are that it can help heart health and it’s high in fiber, which can help regulate bowel movements.

 

Cancer myth: Don’t consume food or drinks that contain artificial sweeteners.

Truth: There have been studies on animals that caused some safety scares about artificial sweeteners. But there have been more recent, better-designed studies on humans that provide strong evidence that artificial sweeteners do not raise the risk of cancer.

Along with nutrition, other lifestyle factors such as exercise and not smoking play a role in helping to prevent cancer.

Keep in mind that just as there are common myths about the causes of cancer, there are also myths about what prevents cancer. They may include misinformation that “superfoods” like blueberries or broccoli will help prevent the disease. It’s vital to learn about these myths as well, so you won’t rely too heavily on any one method of prevention. Along with nutrition, other lifestyle factors such as exercise and not smoking play a role in helping to prevent cancer.

Your dietitian will help you understand the benefits of a nutritious diet along with other healthy lifestyle choices.

Many studies show that integrative treatments can help manage pain symptoms, lower stress and improve energy, sleep and overall quality of life. 

Thriving on the road to wellness

Many studies show that integrative treatments can help manage pain symptoms, lower stress and improve energy, sleep and overall quality of life. Nutrition counseling and other integrative treatments offered as part of the DFCC’s Thrivorship program provide personal support, tools and resources along with compassionate and respectful care. It’s a “road to wellness” program with the goal of easing side effects, restoring vitality and boosting immunity.

The Thrivorship nutrition counseling program includes one-on-one counseling with a registered dietitian and free nutrition classes such as:

  • Back-to-basics nutrition discussions for overall health and disease prevention.
  • Diet myths and cancer controversies.
  • Inflammation and your diet.
  • An introduction to mindful eating
  • What to eat during chemotherapy

“Food is such a huge part of the wellness side, during and after cancer,” says Peters. “It’s awesome if we can change the way we address nutrition. Let’s think of it as a tool, not a diet.”

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Find a doctor

The cancer care team at Providence continues to drive leading-edge research and pioneer new treatments that are focused on caring for our cancer patients like family until the fight is won. If you need to access an oncologist or specialist, you can use our provider directory.

In Southern California, the Providence Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center offers cancer patients and their loved ones a medical home of every stage of diagnosis, treatment and survivorship in one building. To learn more about this program and integrative and nutritional counseling, call Integrative Medicine at 818-748-4701, or email THRIVORS@providence.org.

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Cancer Team is committed to bringing you the most up-to-date insights about treatments, prevention, care and support available. We know cancer diagnoses strain you both mentally and physically, and we hope to provide a small piece of hope to you or your loved ones who are fighting the cancer battle with useful and clinically-backed advice.

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