Food Access to Cancer Patients in Need

L to R: Syeda Farid, Cancer Center Nutritionist, and Katherine Williams, Cancer Nurse Navigator/Director of Survivorship Program

The COVID-19 crisis has been hard on everyone, but particularly for Swedish patients who are receiving treatment for cancer during this pandemic. These patients have unique restrictions and requirements that, are unfortunately, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.  Many of our patients with weakened immune systems are now afraid to go to the grocery store and feel isolated and alone. Combined with job loss, reduced work hours and an overall limited income, many of our patients have confided in the Cancer Center staff that they are constantly stressed and worry about having enough money to buy groceries.

Thanks to funding from the National Breast Cancer Foundation and private donors, grocery gift cards have been provided to patients to purchase food items that are healthy, nutritious and items they would not normally have access to due to limited funds. According to Katherine Williams, Cancer Nurse Navigator/Director of Survivorship Program, these gift cards “…allow patients with limited food budgets to splurge-maybe by purchasing organic versus bottom-line produce or choosing a better cut of meat. For those who were laid off during COVID and find themselves in treatment, having a gift card literally means they can eat.”  She continues, “the grocery gift cards allow patients to make their own choices for food which appeals to them personally. Since every chemo treatment affects patients’ taste differently- what one person may crave or want is very different than another. The gift cards give them the power to purchase what they want, when they need it. Giving patients back their power is priceless.”

Syeda Farid, Clinical Dietitian/Nutritionist at the Cancer Center finds that many of her patients are grateful for the free grocery gift cards and surprised to find that they can positively change the trajectory of their treatment.  As Syeda explains, “With a gift card, a low-income patient can now purchase food that helps with their specific GI and nutritional needs without feeling guilty about taking away from the family’s food needs and limited resources. One patient even shared that she was able to buy organic meat and an avocado for the first time in her life.  Not only was this mother of 3 now provided the luxury of purchasing higher-quality meats, seafood and organic fruits and vegetables, but she tolerated her treatments better, missed fewer appointments and didn’t feel so tired and lacking in energy.

Another cancer patient, a single mother living with a sick relative expressed her gratitude for the grocery gift cards by saying, “ …that because of the Mariano’s gift card, I was able to get more energy by eating many small meals and healthy snacking.  Thanks to the free food,  I’m able to buy better  food for myself and now don’t have to worry about running out of money for food at the end-of-the month. That is when I usually have to depend on frozen or canned food. I don’t like eating canned food but I force myself because I have no choice. Thank you for providing me better options and better health.”

To many of our cancer patients, the grocery gift cards have been life-changing by providing them access to nutritious and healthy foods tailored to their specific needs. Syeda puts it in perspective when she notes that, “The gift cards have made a major impact on the physical and emotional health of our cancer patients. A $25 gift card seems like a small token, but for our patients, it can mean maintaining the nutritional support needed to continue their cancer treatment uninterrupted and giving them a chance to renew their overall health.”  If you would like to help support low-income cancer patients through this program, please contact please visit the donation form, or call the Foundation office at 773-293-5121 or email, Foundation@schosp.org.

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