In this guest post, Heather talks about her need for nutritional support and joining our focus group to develop resources for others.

My diagnosis of head and neck cancer was in early 2020, following a routine dental check-up.  The clinical teams gave me and my family the time to understand the information we’d been given and make informed choices regarding the way ahead. The treatment identified as giving the best possible outcome was radical chemo/radiotherapy.

Food as medicine

The importance of nutritional health was stressed at my first oncology appointment when the consultant told me that “food was the medicine”. The side effects of treatment and potential eating difficulties were explained in detail, so I was prepared at some level.

During treatment, I was supported by an excellent dietician who, while quietly supportive, worked hard to ensure that I was eating sufficient calories and introduced oral nutritional supplements at an early stage.

Feeding tube

Unfortunately, despite support from the specialist team with pain relief, infection management and much encouragement, I was unable to manage my nutritional health as I would have liked. I had to go into hospital for a short time and have a naso-gastric feeding tube inserted.

With the tube, I was able to manage at home with the support of the dietician until I was eating well enough for it to be removed.

Regaining appetite

I am pleased to report that I am now eating normally. My last scan showed no evidence of recurrence of head and neck cancer. All good news but sadly the scan showed a new cancer in my lungs, which is being treated by chemo/immunotherapy. So far, I have not experienced any serious side effects from this regime and can enjoy eating outside in restaurants which feels great!

I have both in my professional and personal life been an avid supporter of the importance of healthy eating to achieving good health. This and my recent personal experience provided the motivation to my becoming a member of the group that worked on developing the Patients Association’s disease-related malnutrition resources. The opportunity to develop a new and helpful resource was too good to miss.

Clear, accurate and helpful

These resources have been reviewed and agreed to by nutritional experts and the diverse range of people participating in the group. The resources are clear, accurate and helpful. They are informative and provide a basis for discussion with health professionals – and an important move forward towards becoming a partner in care.

Heather was a member of the focus group that helped to develop our disease-related malnutrition resources.