Pat Killingsworth Pat Killingsworth

Diet and Multiple Myeloma (Part Seven): Post Stem Cell Transplant – Learning to Eat Anything

After all of the deep and theoretical topics I have been writing about lately, it’s nice to concentrate on something a bit more positive and practical.

Here is the seventh installment of Danny Parker’s Diet and Multiple Myeloma series:

Diet and Multiple Myeloma (Part Seven):  Post Stem Cell Transplant – Learning to Eat Anything

One subject we haven’t touched on is important: after a stem cell transplant (SCT) it is hard to eat anything. I know from my own experience last winter, it was that way. My doctors and nurse practitioners warned me not to try to eat my favorite foods– lest I come away hating them for a few months. That turned out to be no problem in that no food seemed any good! Constant nausea= no appetite.  None; zero, zilch.

Not surprisingly, weight loss and insufficient protein and caloric intake can be a real problem with SCT patients. Moreover, it is important to be well-nourished and in good shape before your SCT—unless you want a longer hospital stay.

http://www.nature.com/bmt/journal/v35/n11/full/1704963a.html

So the recommendations in the column for good nutrition might as well start during your induction therapy and lead right up to your SCT.

What was my appetite like after my SCT? My experience was that everyone had a food recommendation I couldn’t stand. Sadly, although I found the dietary specialist at the hospital well intentioned, there is little she could do to make food seem appetizing when I felt that queasy. I was sick beyond influence.

I found that no foods with strong smells were tolerable. Even comfort foods appeared dreadful and repulsive. Simple things seemed best. I could drink juices, get down some crackers, a few Cherrios and chew through an apple. But mostly, that eating was joyless and every bite seemed difficult, challenging—even wrong.

You’ll have to work this out yourself, but my recommendation is to listen to the dietician, but also be kind to yourself. During this time, most of the diet recommendations we provided previously are out the window. You eat what you can tolerate and even then it’s tough.

Still, knowing what’s good for your condition can still be a guide; I never found apples reprehensible. However, if broccoli was being eaten anywhere on the floor, I was feeling green…. Certainly, the eating atmosphere after a stem cell transplant is trying. Rebecca Katz’s book, The Cancer Fighting Kitchen, has some good recommendations.

http://www.amazon.com/Cancer-Fighting-Kitchen-Nourishing-Big-Flavor-Treatment/dp/1587613441

My best advice is that you will have to work this out personally for yourself.

Our love of food is so intimate and personal that the path will differ for each person. You’ll have to find out what works for you after chemo regardless of what anyone recommends. It will be different for you than anyone else. But be willing to let others know what you want. While, I found tomato juice to save me, others would gag at that idea.

Eventually I worked up to peaches on raisin bran and some milk. But even with my beautiful mug, coffee seemed a putrid brew that nothing could help. As much as I love the java bean, I knew the planet was more than slightly off axis for Planet Danny.

There are other complications of course, from being neutropenic post transplant. For a period of time following the transplant, your dietitian overlord may recommend a neutropenic diet. Dietary restrictions may include avoiding raw/undercooked foods (such as seafood, eggs, vegetables, or unpeeled fruits) or unpasteurized dairy products. Generally, this is more of a theoretical drag: other than apples, I didn’t want most of that anyway.

But there were exceptions: I am still smarting that a friend smuggled a watermelon into the hospital which I craved, only to have the floor nurse deny me that pleasure. I brought it out with me after leaving the hospital and it was a great thing to munch on while watching the Super Bowl.

Luckily, now a year later, the terrible nausea is gone. It fades quickly after about three months. Thank God. And for all those of you in food purgatory after a stem cell transplant, I have a helpful confession:

Once more, I am totally in love with a beautiful bowl of whole-grain pasta.

Ah, the beauty of food, of life itself…

Once again, thanks much, Danny!   Danny has had a lot of personal “stuff” going on lately–travel and a death in the family–so I appreciate his latest contribution more than ever!

There may be a slight delay before his next column.   Take as long as you need, Sir!  I think that we can all agree his helpful tips and thoughtful, in-depth presentation are worth the wait!

Feel good and keep smiling!  Pat