Local program empowers cancer survivors to eat healthy

CPHHS alumni and students bridge nutrition and public health

CPHHS students at Albany Farmers Market

L to R: Amanda (Mandi) Nash, Nova Elwood, Caroline Hansen and Amanda Dardis at the Albany Farmers Market

Cancer survivors need many things to thrive — the right attitude, a support system, numerous resources and a healthy diet. Too often, the latter is the most difficult to attain. But thanks to a local program, led and supported by CPHHS alumni and students, eating healthy is now within reach.

Two years ago, Samaritan Health Services launched “That’s My Farmer” in Albany to support cancer survivors in learning about nutrition. Participants pay $20 for the six-week support program, which is led by dietitians from the Samaritan Cancer Program.

“That’s My Farmer sparked my interest in learning more about healthy eating and taught me to implement changes for me and my family,” says one survivor.

Another survivor was impacted right out of the gate: “I changed what I eat from the start of the program. The information I have now should impact the way I eat for months to come as I get more into the routine of healthy living.”

Program participants learn how to shop local and healthy, and the health impacts of wholesome foods and supplements. They’re given healthy cookbooks and vouchers for fresh produce at local farmers markets to help them transition to a healthy lifestyle.

Since its inception, the program has grown to include Corvallis and Lebanon. In 2016, the program has touched 39 cancer survivors and their families.

“That’s My Farmer provides all the great aspects of a good nutrition education program along with the community and social support that cancer survivors need,” says Samaritan Albany General Hospital clinical dietitian Nova Elwood. A 2014 CPHHS alum, Nova also serves as the lead dietitian for the program in Albany.

“Not only are they getting education and hands-on experience buying and preparing healthy foods, but they are also making invaluable connections with other survivors who have experienced similar challenges. It’s so rewarding to watch them grow closer to each other throughout the program. We celebrate survivorship as we experience the joy of healthy eating.”

CPHHS connectedness

The educational – and emotional – components of the program are facets that College of Public Health and Human Sciences alumni and students experience firsthand.

Nova says that when survivors share their stories, you feel their pain from what they have been through; and you also witness the human spirit shine bright with hope and resiliency.

“You experience their heartache and joy,” she says. “That’s not something you can teach in a classroom.”

In addition to Nova’s leadership, fellow CPHHS alumna Abigail Muniz, BS ’13, leads the Corvallis program, Athena Nofziger, BS ’04, spearheads the program in Lebanon, and Jessica Davis, BS ’10, created the program in 2014.

Current CPHHS Dietetics students Caroline Hansen, Rebecca Butler and Amanda Nash also have had positive experiences volunteering with the program, and say they’re gaining valuable experience for their future careers in public health and dietetics.

That's My Farmer

That’s My Farmer volunteers, staff and participants

“Our volunteers get real, hands-on experiences with a thriving and successful community intervention,” Nova says. “They also benefit from seeing dietitians and public health workers in their roles as teachers and program managers.”

Caroline has been volunteering with That’s My Farmer since it began and enjoys getting to know the participants and witnessing them become more confident about healthy eating.

“This program has helped me understand the challenges and concerns of cancer survivors,” Caroline says. “I’ve learned that maintaining or gaining weight is a big part of counseling cancer survivors. Chemotherapy affects their appetite, and dietitians help participants find new or alternative foods.”

Fellow classmate Rebecca is in her second year with the program and became lead volunteer coordinator at the Corvallis site this year. “I love getting to know the participants at weekly classes and enjoy it when they get excited about the produce selection at the markets,” she says. “It’s been a great opportunity to see dietitians in practice.”

Amanda says volunteering with the program has allowed her to witness the impact of nutrition education and support the program brings to survivors, further strengthening her love of public health and dietetics.

“We get to know the survivors on a very personal level,” Amanda says. “They are so receptive to any knowledge that can help them live a healthier, happier life.”

More information on Samaritan’s That’s My Farmer Program can be found here.