Published on April 30, 2018

Helping cancer patients, one meal at a timeHelping cancer patients, one meal at a time

Almost 20 years ago, the American Cancer Society (Society) enlisted a group of Cape Cod volunteers to organize a local fundraising event to benefit cancer patients and survivors on Cape and off. Why? Because cancer and the battles waged against it, knows no boundaries. The result: a new tradition of giving — the Compass of Hope Gala was born.

In the beginning, all proceeds of the evening went directly to the Society for programs including research, support services, education, lodging and transportation. Recognizing the importance to local donors of retaining a portion of the funds locally, the Gala Committee asked the Society if proceeds from the evening could stay on Cape Cod.

Last year, the American Cancer Society awarded Cape Cod Healthcare a $103,500 grant to start the first oncology nutrition program on Cape Cod. Designed to provide nutritional support to cancer patients and their families, it is an important new tool in the overall treatment plan.

“In talking with doctors and nurses about what cancer patients need most, gala committee members realized that nutrition was a critical component of cancer care. We were inspired by conversations with our honorees emeriti including Cape Cod Healthcare radiation oncologist Daniel Canaday, MD and Emerald Physicans’ medical director Kumara Sidhartha, MD, MPH,” said Sharon Kennedy who is one of the eight volunteers on the gala committee.

“Dr. Canady explained to us that one of the challenges doctors face and a real barrier to care is their patients being strong enough to withstand treatment. And Dr. Sidhartha talked with us about the value of nutrition both in prevention and treatment of cancers and chronic diseases.”

In addition to Kennedy, other members of the gala committee are:

  • Alice O’Neill
  • Amy Britton
  • Phyllis Connelly
  • Barbara Dunn
  • Susan Ellis
  • Melissa Marchand
  • Diane Salomone

“We’re excited about our continued partnership with Cape Cod Healthcare, and we’re looking forward to continuing to partner with them this year to support the cancer patients on the Cape through the nutrition program,” said Holly Grant, executive director for the American Cancer Society of Eastern New England. “This type of partnership is not widely available. It’s a unique partnership really due to the work that we do through the Compass of Hope Gala.”

Cancer patients at Cape Cod Hospital’s Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center or at Falmouth Hospital’s Clark Cancer Center are eligible to take part in the new nutrition program, according to Rebecca Robke, RN, MSN, executive director of oncology and urgent care services.

“When a patient sees a physician here, they generate an order for a nutritional consult and during that nutritional consult the patient and their families receive disease-specific counseling and a care plan as to best help them eat through their disease process,” she said.

Registered dietician Dianna Carpentieri came onboard in early February to be that consultant. She helps patients put together a plan that takes into account their disease process, likes, dislikes and the nutritional components they need to best fight their cancer.

“Part of it is working with their preferences and creating a meal plan at the present point in time wherever they are, whether it’s pre-treatment, during treatment or post-treatment,” Carpentieri said. “I do some meal planning and also provide more in-depth and specific education in regards to where they are personally.”

She starts with what they are currently eating and what they will actually eat.

“We don’t want them to start losing a lot of weight, especially muscle mass, so one of the main things I focus on is supporting with good proteins as well as calories,” she said. “In the past the advice oftentimes was just eat whatever you can. In some cases that is important, but we also want to make sure that you’re getting those important vitamins and minerals and good protein as well, versus just calories.”

Quality and Quantity

Carpentieri focuses on the quality of the calories and not just the quantity. Not all calories are created equal and focusing on calories as just a number isn’t very helpful, she said. She also spends time dispelling myths that people may have heard or read online. Nutrition is a hot topic that affects everyone, so there is a lot of misinformation out there. She helps patients determine what are valid and reliable resources backed by real research and gives patients a list of unbiased sources that can be trusted.

Carpentieri spends a lot of time with head and neck patients who are getting radiation treatment in the area of the mouth, neck and throat. It can have a big impact on their ability to eat.

“I work with them and with any family or friend support to prepare them for the potential changes or side effects of their treatment,” she said. “I really work on a plan for if their taste changes, if their ability to swallow becomes more strenuous or painful, making sure that they have the information and the tools to still have good nutrition.”

Nutritional counseling isn’t the only helpful part of the program.

“Thanks to the ACS grant, they’ve provided us with funding so that patients who have financial worries during their cancer treatment can get assistance,” Robke said. “We have some funding now so that if they’re hungry, we can help them. It’s one less thing that they have to worry about as they’re going through their treatment.”

The nutrition program has partnered with Organic Market, which has locations in Chatham, Dennisport and Mashpee Commons to provide oncology patients with gift cards to buy healthy foods. Organic Market has also provided coupons for 10 percent off and a free juice or smoothie for each visit.

“Thanks to the Society’s grant, they’ve provided us with funding so that patients who have financial worries during their cancer treatment can get access to nutritional support (or supportive services),” said Robke. “We have some funding now so that if they’re hungry, we can help them. It’s one less thing that they have to worry about as they’re going through their treatment.”

Compass Of Hope 2018

This year’s Compass of Hope Gala will take place on Saturday, October 13 at Oyster Harbors Club in Osterville. The theme will be “A Very Square Affair” to reflect the importance of a square meal helps heal, Kennedy said.

This year’s honorees will be Cape Cod Healthcare radiation oncologist Molly Sullivan, MD, and the Pendergast family of Barnstable. The money raised through the Hands Up For Hope portion of the evening will again go to support the nutrition program, as well as the ACS Road to Recovery transportation program providing rides to treatment for patients who would otherwise have difficulty getting there.

Note: As of 5/1/2019, Emerald Physicians joined Medical Affiliates of Cape Cod (MACC), a division of primary and specialty care physicians from Cape Cod Healthcare.