By Linn Zander
Every day, Bismarck Cancer Center’s Amanda Ihmels teaches patients and survivors how to make healthier food choices. She’s one of only two board certified oncology dietitians in the whole state of North Dakota. Amanda has provided nutritional counseling for almost seven years at the Bismarck Cancer Center and has helped thousands of people with their nutritional needs while they are going through cancer treatment. She has also spoken on nutrition at multiple conferences, corporations, and health fairs across North Dakota.
Amanda’s job is to help reduce the possibility of cancer returning and also provide essential supportive care for successful cancer treatment.
“If a person going through treatment is having difficulties eating, they might start to lose weight unintentionally,” she says. “They could become weak, lose muscle, and make their side effects more severe and their healing delayed.”
Amanda helps patients manage their side effects during and after treatments. Common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, dehydration, constipation, and weight management.
“Once survivors have completed treatment, we encourage them to reach a healthy weight and follow a plant based diet with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and lean meats,” Amanda explains. “They are also encouraged to complete 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.”
Amanda’s favorite part of her job is building relationships with the patients and families she works with every day. Her position brings her face to face with many of the patients at the Bismarck Cancer Center. One patient Amanda hasn’t been able to forget was a gentleman she helped with neck cancer.
“He came to realize it was important to follow my nutrition recommendations. At his follow-up appointment, he said he was sorry for giving me a hard time and he wished he would have listened right away. He said, ‘You saved my life.’“
Bismarck Cancer Center’s oncology nutrition program is free; funds from the Bismarck Cancer Center Foundation cover the expenses. The Bismarck Cancer Center is unique in that the foundation covers housing, gas cards, spiritual therapy, survivorship nurses, massages, financial aid, and nutritional counseling. This is the 10th anniversary of the Bismarck Cancer Center Foundation and executive director, Amy Gross, says the Bismarck Cancer Center has become a medical facility that helps the cancer patients restore their physical and mental well-being.
“We pride ourselves in having state-of-the-art cancer procedures, but our goal is to treat the patient’s mind, body, and spirit,” says Amy.
For survivors in the Bismarck/Mandan areas who want to make a healthy lifestyle changes, the Bismarck Cancer Center offers a survivorship lifestyle program called Live Well. It is a 12-week series that equips patients with the tools they need to make a positive change in their life as they ease into the “new normal” of survivorship.
For more information on BCC’s nutritional counseling, Live Well classes, or to schedule Amanda for a speaking engagement, call the Bismarck Cancer Center at 701-222-6154.
Questions for patients to ask their providers:
- Can I continue to take my herbal and vitamin supplements during treatment?
- Does your facility have a board certified oncology registered dietitian available to help with treatment side effects?
- How will treatment affect my weight?
- What nutrition programing is available to survivors?
Linn Zander is the outreach services coordinator at the Bismarck Cancer Center. She spends her time raising awareness and educating people in rural communities about cancer and cancer prevention and helping with events for the Foundation.