How do I help my mother eat better to get stronger?

1 answer | Last updated: Jun 18, 2010
Skeeter1 asked...

My mom has lung cancer with pneumonia. She was supposed to start chemo this week, but the doctor said she's too weak. They are giving her blood transfusions to help with the low blood cell count. The doctor said that she has gone beyond chemo and he wants to do radiation. He said she has to start eating more to gain enough strength to receive the radiation. I gather she's too weak for this also right now. What can I do as her daughter to help?

Expert Answers

Bonnie Bajorek Daneker is author and creator of the The Compassionate Caregiver's Series, which includes "The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone with Cancer," "The Journey of Grief," "Handbook on Hospice and Palliative Care," and other titles on cancer diagnosis and end of life. She speaks regularly at cancer research and support functions, including PANCAN and Cancer Survivor's Network. She is a former member of the Executive Committee of the CSN at St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta and the Georgia Chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

Hi Skeeter,

Lung cancer with pneumonia is a very taxing combination. Have you asked her what she thinks she could tolerate food-wise? Sometimes soft foods like oatmeal and other warm cereals can be both easy to tolerate and comforting. Try other soft foods like pudding, cottage cheese, macaroni and cheese, too (taking into account any food allergies). She should try to eat small quantities often, instead of big meals. Her system may need time to adjust to the impacts of this disease.

Has she tried energy drinks like Ensure or Boost? These come in a variety of flavors and may give her a little strength. If she is unable or unwilling to eat or drink, let it be. I know that's hard, but try to understand as she is likely approaching end of life.

In the meantime, have a frank discussion about her end of life issues. She may not want any additional therapy, chemo or radiation, in which case you must honor her wishes and begin palliative treatment.

Palliative care, or comfort care, helps to prepare her mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically for additional changes that are coming with end of life. Part of the program is for you as well, so you are better able to facilitate what she needs and to help you with anticipatory grieving you're probably experiencing. Don't be afraid to talk to a chaplain or counselor if you need another person to talk to. This combination of diseases is affecting both of you, and you need your strength too. Good luck.