Alberta Cancer Foundation

How Diet Can Help Minimize Cancer Complications


For many cancer patients, the side effects of treatment — including fatigue, reduced muscle mass and even malnutrition — can have a dramatic effect on their quality of life.

Based out of the Central Alberta Cancer Centre — an outpatient clinic attached to the Red Deer Hospital — oncology dietitian Kallee Marshall takes a patient-centred approach to her practice.

“In my practice, I really try to focus on educating individuals about the importance of nutrition and the role nutrition can play in their treatment outcomes,” she says. “If someone is not eating very well and ends up in the hospital with a lot of complications, their treatment may be delayed. But if we can help them stay nourished, there may still be complications that come about, but, hopefully, we can minimize them.”

Patients seek out Marshall’s expertise at various points in their cancer treatment journey, and she works with them to develop individual programs that address their unique needs.

“One example of someone coming to see me could be a patient who has lost a lot of weight, but doesn’t have much appetite,” she says. “So, in talking with that patient, we might discover that our goals are to stop any further weight loss and try to focus on maintaining their weight and muscle mass.”

One such patient is 82-year-old Keith Sterling, who was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 1986 and had reconstructive surgery on his jaw in 2004. He still experiences the effects of his radiation treatment on his throat, and, in 2016, when he developed a bad infection in the tissue around his jaw that resulted in considerable weight loss, he was referred to work with Marshall.

“I feel better now,” Sterling says. “My energy is a lot better.”

With Marshall’s guidance, he has made small changes to his daily diet, such as adding hemp seeds and almonds to his morning bowl of porridge. And those small changes, which he tracks with the MyFitnessPal app, have helped him to stabilize his weight.

“She did not lecture me about what had to be done,” Sterling says of his work with Marshall, who also provided him with a book of simple, high-calorie recipes. “She just said, ‘Hey, this is what can be done.’”

“It’s really completely based on what the patient’s needs and wants are,” Marshall explains. “I’m just here to provide the support they need, the tools they need and the education they need to make informed decisions.”