Food Insecurity's Impact on the Cancer Journey
Nutritional Importance and Food Resources
As we enter January, it’s incredible to think 2021 has ended; thankfully, for many of us! With the holiday sparkle and celebrations over, we look to renewed hope and dreams in 2022. Unfortunately, these recent holiday festivities were not the reality of many families who struggle with their child’s or young spouse’s cancer. 2022 continues to be stressful for these families. The holidays brought concerns about not obtaining adequate care due to holiday delays and closures and not seeing family because of travel expenses and cancer treatment restrictions. These concerns remain in 2022 for families battling cancer. Covid and its many variants persist with its danger and limitations. Importantly, not often mentioned are families with a child or young spouse fighting cancer not having enough food supply as they face 2022.
A child’s cancer diagnosis is likely the worst and most pivotal news for any parent and family. Instantaneously, families are rendered powerless to the one fundamental obligation of protecting their child. The grief felt by a parent in this situation can undoubtedly lead to unconscious side effects, such as negative thinking, distractedness, anxiety, and a decline in self-care. In turn, these side effects can significantly impact maintaining everyday parenting responsibilities. Unfortunately, food selection and availability are some of the many responsibilities that tend to be neglected, especially when resources are limited.
Stress and a Lack of Time Effect Focusing on Nutrition
Pediatric cancer patients require specialized nutritional changes in their diet almost immediately after diagnosis. The required intake of calories and reduction in certain foods to keep cancer-feeding hormones at bay are crucial in the recovery journey. However, it can be a challenge to prioritize food when you are trying to balance the high cost of cancer care while still maintaining your well-being to keep your job and maintain a household optimal for your child’s recovery. In addition, medical appointments and side effects of treatments can interfere with work and may result in lost income.
Parents can feel like the weight on their shoulders is maxed out both physically and emotionally, and choosing between a salad or pizza does not seem like the most vital need to fulfill. Research shows that depression and anxiety are associated with food insecurity, so, understandably, it would affect families who are already going through the difficulty of a cancer diagnosis. When parents are aware, it can be a frightening situation when your thought is on “what am I going to feed my sick child?” and “Will I have enough food to feed my family?”. In turn, food insecurity stress often takes over following a child’s cancer treatment.
Families must know the importance of nutrition during the cancer journey and ways to ask providers and local communities for assistance to find food. Having the best nutrition to bring about the best outcome for your child should not be a burden or struggle. The following will share the research and facts about food insecurity and its impacts on cancer and advice on finding food resources in your community.
Food Insecurity Facts that Matter
Almost one-third of families whose children are treated for cancer face food, housing, or energy insecurity, and one-quarter lose more than 40 percent of household income. Competition between food and medical care is likely exacerbated by a lack of insurance or inadequate medication coverage. Studies show that families without insurance or public insurance are more likely to be food insecure than families with private insurance. Research into understanding the relationship between poor health outcomes and food insecurity has driven organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AARP) to advocate for regular screening of families with a cancer diagnosis for food insecurity. A screening tool called Hunger Vital Sign (HVS) was validated for pediatric patients to identify families with food insecurities. This tool evaluates families based on their responses to two important statements:
- “Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.”
- “Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last, and we didn’t have money to get more.”
If you answered yes to one or both of these statements, then it’s time to consider asking your health care team or local officials about reliable and consistent food sources in your community.
The Impact of Nutrition On The Cancer Journey
Good nutrition is important for a child, adolescent, or young adult with cancer. It helps them grow, repair tissues damaged by therapy, have less side effects of therapy and feel better. Nutritional needs of children differ with age, sex, body size, general state of health, and the type of cancer and treatment. Children with cancer often have poor appetites due to one or more of the following:
- The hospital environment
- Side effects of chemotherapy and/or radiation
- Changes in the cells of the mouth that may alter the way food tastes
- Side effects from medications
- Inadequate absorption of calories, vomiting, and diarrhea
Poor nutrition contributes to poor growth. If a child with cancer maintains adequate nutrition, he or she may be more likely to:
- Better tolerate chemotherapy or radiation and have fewer side effects
- Have improved wound healing
- Grow and develop
- Maximize quality of life
Finding National and Local Food Resources
At Here to Serve, we strive to support families as they navigate all the technicalities of a pediatric cancer diagnosis. We understand wholeheartedly how overwhelming it can be to juggle the normalcies of everyday life along with medical treatment for your child. If you are struggling to provide sufficient healthy food to feed your family, please consider exploring the options below in your local state or county.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Federal nutrition program that helps millions of families with low income in the U.S. put food on the table. For more information on eligibility, please visit the USDA Food and Nutrition Services
- WhyHunger Local Food Bank Finder: Helps find community-based organizations and emergency food providers. To find local food banks in your state, please visit the WhyHunger
- Feeding America: Nationwide network of food banks secures and distributes 4.3 billion meals each year through food pantries and meal programs throughout the United States and leads the nation to engage in the fight against hunger. For more information on programs and location food banks, visit the Feeding America
If you or a friend or loved one has had a child recently diagnosed with cancer, please reach out to Here to Serve for help. Just click on the Get Help button. Here to Serve is here to help! We wish you and your family a healthy, prosperous, and safe holiday season!
By Sameera Rangwala
About The Author
Sameera Rangwala spent 10 years in the biotech industry. As a scientist and research professional, she uses her skills to blog and provide words of support to the cancer community.
All information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.