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food tastes bad after radiation - what to eat?

Posts: 4
Joined: Jul 2012

He is not really eating anything at all, gets up to have 1/2 cup of coffee in the morning, does not eat, then is so tired from just moving from the bedroom to the kitchen table, he goes back to bed. He then gets up later in the day when my mom wakes him for meds, he drinks water and 1/2 glass of ice tea or cold drink, prefers cold, will eat maybe apple sauce snack pack size, hates the 'ensure' nutritional canned milkshake supplement, won't drink it, likes ice cream too but wishes it came in flavourless kind! He is drinking lots of water but not taking in much in food or protein. I did suggest a hard boiled egg each day and he thought that might be okay. He says everything tastes bad, he does not feel nausea or does not vomit, but his taste is off, and he thinks it all tastes terrible and unappealing. He's lost 20 pounds in 2 weeks!

Today we had an appointment with the chemo oncologist for a consult. They say he is not a good candidate for chemo unless he can get his energy levels up a bit. They will schedule an appointment for palliative care and dietician, then in 2 weeks if he is a bit less tired they will try chemo.

For now he sleeps a lot, and eats very little. It seems if he has an appointment he can manage to get up and get there but if there is nothing on the schedule then he is too tired to be motivated.

Any thoughts on food to eat (anyone?)?

My Dad has been told they won't give chemo unless he can get some strength back, but if he is not eating that won't do it. He has not given up but if there are no appointments or friends visiting then he has no motivation and no reason to get up out of bed. I would rather he is busy with appointments all day and then exhausted at night that sleeping all day and all night.

Posts: 1048
Joined: Aug 2006

There are many things that can cause not eating and taste changes. Sometimes depression is the cause and then anti-depressants are the fix. Sometimes certain meds used during surgery can cause taste changes and time may fix the problem (that happened to me and eating was practically impossible until whatever they gave me wore off!). One of my relatives totally lost his desire to eat after having pain meds after surgery. One call to the doctor's office and they put him on a med that stimulated his appetite. In less than a day he was eating anything put in front of him, but the problem happened again each time he was put on oxycodine or morophine. Sometimes cancer causes the changes that affect appetite. There are lots of cookbooks in the public library that address cooking for cancer patients. Common helpful tips that are mentioned include the following: avoid metal utensils, avoid meat, avoid large servings, avoid spicy foods. Foods that are usually easier to tolerate include mashed potatoes, cream of wheat (with lots of brown sugar!), oatmeal (more brown sugar!), french toast with maple syrup, custards (both sweet egg custards and savory custards with veggies blended in like carrot custard). Some of this may not sound healthy, but the idea is to get calories in. I can tell you that not feeling like eating was extremely upsetting to me. The smells of my mom's cooking about did me in and my mom is a great cook. She wanted to cook me homemade dinners to make me healthy but they nearly did the opposite! She ended up microwaving foods quickly so I wouldn't smell them. Frozen tang and jello went down okay too at that time, so you might try them. Make all "meals" very small. 5 mini-meals is better than a "real dinner".

Some folks like milk shakes from the fast food places too.

Ex_Rock_n_Roller's picture
Posts: 281
Joined: Mar 2011

... when I subsisted on nothing but diced-up boiled hot dogs and spaghetti with lots of butter and salt on it. I had the additional problem of an irradiated esophagus, which got to a point (luckily, later than expected) when even room-temperature water hurt going down. I learned to eat stuff that was slippery and went down in one piece (i.e. didn't take a lot of swallows to get past the nuked area).

If he doesn't have that, he's lucky, but I know exactly what he means about not being nauseous but still not being interested in eating. I had that feeling also, and I found that once I forced in the first few bites, I could keep rolling.

If he wants to have the chance at chemo, he's going to have to tough it out like that. I'd recommend something like the spaghetti: not a very distinctive taste, easy to get down, and pretty easy on the system overall.

Posts: 844
Joined: Mar 2011

Dronabinol (Marinol), megestrol acetate (Megace) and oxandrolone (Oxandrin) have all been used successfully to increase appetites of cancer patients. Marinol is legal here in the US, I do not know about Canada or the UK. It would be a good idea to talk to a nutritionist to get some protein and other supplements that you can put into the stuff he does eat.

From what you have written here, it sounds like he is profoundly depressed. If he is not on an anti depressant or anti anxiety med you should as his doctor for a prescription.
His radiation will have contributed to his fatigue. Also, his pain meds should be re-evaluated they may be the culprit or the pain can cause depression or lack of appetite Sometimes doctors will prescribe Ritalin to stimulate a patient during the day.

Please stay in touch.

Posts: 15
Joined: Apr 2012

I also have had trouble eating, especially that first week after chemo. My surgeon suggested ginger, and it has worked better for me than anything else! I get the pickled ginger for souchi and rinse it in cold water at least 3 times and then sop up all the moisture with paper towels. I use about 3-4 teaspoons 4-5 times daily while nauseated and it takes care of things. Wait about 30-45 minutes to eat after eating the ginger. Ginger is a strong taste, but for me was the best solution.
Marinol took away my nausea and settled my stomach, but did nothing to increase my appetite.
Last month I finally began an antidepressant due to crying jags even though I didn't think I felt depressed. It has begun to help some but does not help at all with my pain.
Feel better soon.

Posts: 844
Joined: Mar 2011

Pickled ginger is an excellent recommendation. Also try ginger tea. One of the problems seniors have with the appetite is that the sense of smell has weakened with age. Since nausea is not an issue try using more or pungent seasonings.

Sue- there is no reason they should not be managing your pain better. Where is the pain and what are they using?

Posts: 1048
Joined: Aug 2006

Ginger Tea is very easy to make. In case you have never tried making it, here are the directions:

Buy a fat "finger" of ginger from your local grocery store.
Cut a 4-6 quarter-size thin pieces and peel off the brown skin with the side of a spoon or a knife (carefully of course). Bring a cup or two of water to a boil and add the peeled ginger. Let steep in hot water for about 5 minutes or more depending on how strong you like it. Drink it down as is or add lemon or sugar to taste. Enjoy!

Note: It is very hard to remain anxious after drinking a cup of ginger tea. More than two cups however can cause unwanted side effects (slowed intestinal activity,free bleeding and such). Ginger is a medicine as well as a tea, so consult your doctor about this and all herbal remedies.

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