Food For Thought

My Whipple recovery was slow (in my mind) but progressing well.  Yes, there were hiccups along the way and it was not easy.  My friends know that I am passionate about food with a truck driver’s appetite. I adore the entire experience of dining and cooking is a favorite hobby.  A lack of appetite was such a strange experience in addition to the limited foods I could tolerate.  Applesauce, baked potatoes, pasta – anything comforting.

I remember in my second month of recovery from the Whipple surgery, lying in bed, I had a slight hunger pain.  This was exciting; maybe I would be normal after all!  I thought about what I wanted when I started craving a baked potato and green peas!  Paul was biking when I called his cell to ask if, on his way home, he would stop in Westwood and pick up a cooked baked potato with butter on the side (something I never eat – I felt very wicked) and some green peas.  Jerry’s Deli did not have peas so I suggested Whole Foods; I would cook them.  He later told me he was thrilled that I requested something to eat for the first time in 7 weeks; this was an exciting task!

Arriving at our condominium building, there were several fire trucks in front, with many residents, firemen and building administrators standing in the lobby entrance.  The fire alarm was activated and checks were being performed throughout the building.  The elevators come directly into each unit, which allowed us quick, direct access.  The elevators were off limits and Paul was advised that he would have to wait until clearance was received from the fire marshal.  Not one to always listen to authority or play by the rules, he disregarded this appeal and rushed to our elevator. He felt he was on an important mission and nothing was going to stop him!  Unaware of what was happening downstairs, I could only laugh (even though this was painful) as he appeared before me.  Standing in the doorway, in an outrageously brightly colored (neon) bike ensemble, with bike shoes and helmet on – the HOT baked potato (triple wrapped in foil to preserve the heat!) was tucked in one side of his pants with the bag of frozen peas on the other.

The Whipple surgery, a very complicated abdominal surgery with part of my stomach and other organs were removed required a restricted diet (prescribed); easy, digestible foods and selections that would help me gain weight.  There are several products available to help build energy and strength and are low in sugar or sugar free. Ensure Light has 0 grams of sugar and is readily available.  Orgain is an organic nourishment with several options for a snack or meal replacement. These are available at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

I recommend that pancreatic cancer patients consult with a registered dietitian and your doctor for nutritional advice.  A dietitian or nutritionist who is familiar with cancer patients would be able to evaluate each patient’s needs and help design a diet that is best for them.  You can ask your doctor or nurse for a referral to a dietitian that works with cancer patients or patients with gastrointestinal disorders. 

See below for examples of health eating recommendations from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Healthy Eating Recommendations from PanCAN


Eat 5-6 ounces of protein daily, including up to 3 cups of dairy products. Limit meat cooked at high temperatures (grilled, fried, broiled). Instead, try baking, roasting and poaching meat.

  • Skinless poultry
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Lean cuts of beef, pork, and other red meats (round or loin cuts)
  • Soy products such as tofu, soy milk or edamame
  • Beans, peas, lentils
  • Eggs, egg whites, egg substitute
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Nuts, seeds, nut-butters (use as tolerated)
  • Protein powders from whey, rice, soy and egg whites

Whole Grains

Eat 3-6 ounces of whole grains (breads, cereals, rice and pastas), daily.

  • Look for products labeled as whole grain rather than enriched. Enriched products have lost much of their nutrient value through processing, and have less fiber, vitamins and minerals.

  • Add wheat germ or ground flaxseed to foods to increase fiber.

Fruit & Vegetables

Eat 2-3 cups of vegetables (2-6 servings) and 1-2 cups of fruit (1-4 servings), daily.

  • Fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are all acceptable.

  • 100% juice beverages

  • Select low-sodium canned vegetables and fruits canned in juice, not syrup.

  • Maintain nutrient value of vegetables by lightly steaming them. Overcooking vegetables results in the loss of nutrients. If lightly steamed vegetables are not tolerated, it is better to eat soft cooked vegetables than none at all.

  • Juicing fruits and vegetables can complement a regular diet. Juicing provides variety in texture and taste, helps when swallowing is difficult, and can be less bulky than raw fruits and vegetables. Use a juicer that does not eliminate the pulp. Half a cup of juice = 1 serving of fruit or vegetables. Be careful not to fill up on juice.

Healthy, High-Calorie, High-Fat Food Sources

Eat no more than 5-6 teaspoons of added oils daily (as tolerated).

  • Olive, canola and peanut oils as well as most other vegetable oils

  • Nuts, seeds, nut-butters

  • Olives, avocados

If you need more assistance locating a dietitian, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has two websites that allow you to search for one by zip code.  The first website,, lets you search for dietitians with different specialties and also lists the areas of practice for each individual.  Look for someone who lists Oncology or Digestive Disorders as an area of practice.  The second website,, lets you search for dietitians who practice in oncology nutrition.

Additionally, if there are any specific symptoms that you are experiencing, for example, loss of appetite or weight loss, please reach out to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network –  They can provide you with more specific information. They publish a booklet on the topic of diet and nutrition that can be sent to you. This complimentary booklet covers many topics and is specifically designed for pancreatic cancer patients and survivors.