Cancer patients just got another important tool to help them keep their disease at bay. Cook for Your Life, a website that teaches healthy cooking to cancer patients and their families, has become part of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The free website will be guided by its creator, two-time cancer survivor Ann Ogden Gaffney, who will continue as founder and food advocate, along with Dr. Heather Greenlee, a Fred Hutch public health researcher and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the Hutch's clinical-care partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Why would a cancer research center become involved with a cooking website?
Greenlee said it’s all about helping cancer patients and survivors live longer, healthier lives by providing practical, healthy and reliable resources. Another goal: furthering cancer prevention and survivorship research.
“We know that a large number of cancers can be prevented by eating a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight,” said the epidemiologist and naturopathic physician, who joined the Hutch in 2017. “Similarly, a healthy diet can help manage symptoms and side effects during treatment.”
Eating well is also linked to better survival for some cancers, Greenlee said.
“We have good observational data showing that eating a healthy diet after a cancer diagnosis is associated with decreased cancer recurrence and increased survival for some cancers,” she said.
The challenge, Greenlee said, is getting patients to embrace healthy eating as a lifelong practice.
“We need to identify effective ways to teach people about how and why to eat a healthy diet,” she said. “As a cancer center, we are always on the lookout for innovative interventions to improve cancer prevention, improve patients’ experiences during treatment and improve cancer survivorship.”
Gaffney, a lifelong cook, founded Cook for Your Life in 2007 after her second bout with cancer.
“I realized my cooking skills were helping me navigate the side effects of treatment better than most of my fellow patients in the chemo suite,” she said. “I started sharing tips and recipes with them, which a year later morphed into my first free cooking class.”
Gaffney’s free cooking classes eventually transformed into her free website, which features hundreds of healthy recipes, how-to cooking demonstration videos, a blog and much more. The site is bilingual (English and Spanish) and in the seven years it’s been around, it has reached over 3.5 million people.
In addition to helping thousands of patients maintain a healthy diet through cancer treatment and beyond, Greenlee and Gaffney have conducted research via two National Institutes of Health–funded projects, one utilizing in-person cooking classes and another comparing in-person classes with the tools provided by the website.
Plans are in the works for that research to continue — and even expand. Greenlee said new features will be developed for the site over the course of the next year.
“Going forward, we want to develop and test different methods to teach people about healthy eating,” she said. “We want to become the go-to site for accurate and inspiring healthy cooking and nutrition information for cancer patients, survivors, families, caregivers and clinicians across the globe. Through this site, we want to change cancer clinical outcomes. And Ann and I are both committed to keeping the website free so the information gets into the hands of people who really need it.”
Curious about Cook for Your Life? Sign up for the weekly online Cook for Your Life newsletter. You can also support Fred Hutch’s efforts to explore strategies to transform the health of cancer patients through nutrition.
Diane Mapes is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She has written extensively about health issues for NBC News, TODAY, CNN, MSN, Seattle Magazine and other publications. A breast cancer survivor, she blogs at doublewhammied.com and tweets @double_whammied. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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