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Food for healing… (Part One)

February 21, 2012

I normally write about lighter topics like the farm, the markets, dining out or cooking at home; however, McClendon’s Select took on a new customer this past fall that has had us all thinking about food differently.  As growers of organic produce, we needed no convincing that eating organic and seasonal is best for our diets and our health.  But it hit home how important the proper food is to our overall well-being when the Cancer Treatment Centers of America approached us last fall and asked to have McClendon’s Select provide the hospital with produce for their patients.  Marsha and I had the opportunity to visit the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Goodyear twice over the past few weeks to talk in depth with their Director of Nutrition, Sharon Day, and their Executive Chef, Chef Frank Caputo.  We learned a great deal from both. I wanted to share their approach to treating cancer patients and how they incorporate a proper diet and nutrition in their treatment protocol.  I will post this week on a little about the hospital itself, and then my interviews with Sharon and Frank.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America  – Part One:  The Hospital

You have probably seen the ads before; I certainly have, for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).  They advertise a hospital that treats cancer differently, more respectfully, with the patient at the heart of mission. While it all seems like a good idea, I had filed it away as someplace that I am glad to know exists, but I hope I never have to go.  In the past few months, after we started supplying produce to them, I heard nothing but praise from Bob every time he came back from a meeting with their chef.  After a long career as a pharmacist, Bob has seen his share of hospitals, but he will tell you that he has never seen anything like CTCA.  In his words, everything they do is meticulous from the attentive and warm staff to the extraordinary facilities and the level of detail that has gone in to all of their planning.

What I first noticed when Marsha and I visited is that the CTCA is more like an upscale hotel than a hospital.  The lobby is inviting and bright with fresh flowers on the tables and a glowing fireplace.  There is a concierge desk to one side to assist patients in from out-of-town, and a tree on the wall of the other side of the lobby with each brass petal bearing the name of a five-year survivor.  I was told that large parties are held of five-year survivors and that every CTCA has a similar wall, some with the leaves of the tree reaching all the way around the lobby.  There is nothing sterile or cold here, no weird hospital smells, drab hallways or cacophony of beeps and alarms from ominous machines.  It is quiet and calm and feels very conducive to healing, both from cancer and the fears and frustrations that come with it.

Sharon Day, the Director of Nutrition, walked Marsha and I through the facility and explained their philosophy of patient care.  Everything at CTCA is done with patient input.  Their layout and design are all based off of patient feedback.  All patients’ suggestions, complaints or ideas are directly assigned to the applicable area of the hospital and are answered within 24 hours.  It is this level of patient input and detail that make you realize why nothing here feels like a hospital, because why would any patient ever want to recreate a hospital?

(Disclosure:  Having spent the 24 hours prior to my tour in a different hospital facility with an elderly grandparent, the contrast was mind-blowing.)

Patients come to the CTCA having already received their diagnosis.  They meet with a physician on the first day, as well as the dietician, naturopathic clinician and nursing staff that will work with them.  Within three days, patients receive their treatment plan and know the team that they will be working with throughout their care.  The agony of waiting, following up and trying to have different clinicians talk to one another is all taken away.  Patients meet with the same team every time they come in, or rather; the same team meets with them.  Patients have the dignity of staying in one room, while the clinicians come to them, not the other way around.

Every step has been made easy, with the peace of mind of the patient at the forefront.  Chemo treatments are given in a quiet room with large windows offering views that would help both distract and soothe.  A resource library allows access to the latest medical information, so patients can make informed decisions.  There is a wig shop, an on-site hotel, gym, chapel and salon, all available.  What seemed most defining of the feel and spirit of CTCA was the large brass ship’s bell in the radiation area.  Patients commemorate the end of their treatments by ringing it loudly.  This hospital is about celebrating the positive and helping patients reach those milestones with the hope, support and dignity every cancer patient deserves.

Food is an integral part of treatment and healing at the CTCA.  Sharon explained that every patient meets with a dietician throughout their treatment.  The patient’s diet is just as much a part of their treatment program as anything else they receive.  Dieticians don’t just prescribe diets; they look at the full life-style, patient eating habits and preferences, cooking skills and nutritional education.  As with everything at the CTCA, education is paramount so that the patients have all of the information they need to understand and help in their treatment and make choices that will assist in their progress.  The emphasis on eating seasonal, local, organic produce is at the heart of their nutrition education.  They are focused on helping patients incorporate as many fruits and vegetables as possible into their diets.  This isn’t just a mantra that they preach; they put it into practice with every meal served at the hospital.

Having witnessed for myself the sad, processed, unappetizing meals that were being served at another hospital just the day before, it hit home all to well that the philosophy of the CTCA to their patients was revolutionary in the medical community.  Doctors and clinicians aren’t telling a patient one thing, while turning a blind eye to what the kitchen is sending up to patient rooms.  At the Cancer Treatment Center of America it is evident that everyone is invested and focused on patient care, including their chef and kitchen staff.

And now their farmer.

At the heart of it, our affiliation with them just makes sense.  Why wouldn’t a hospital that treats patients diagnosed with cancer serve anything other than organic foods? It would seem that every hospital would want to make sure that the food they are serving is free of the chemicals and pesticides that can contribute to a cancer diagnosis.  To not only advocate, but serve, meals rich in organic produce with cancer-fighting antioxidants should be an integral part of every cancer treatment facility.  However, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America is the only hospital I know buying organic produce.  They are certainly the only hospital in the Valley that has ever approached us.  In talking with both Sharon and Frank it was clear that they know who the local farmers and food producers are in the Valley and they are serious in not only using local, organic produce, but in educating their patients to do the same.  This isn’t about serving delicious meals or being supportive of the local community, they are dealing with matters of life and death and they have no interest in cutting corners.  The kitchen is very much an integrated part of their patient care.

Everything we saw at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America was world-class, professional, and completely devoted to crushing the devastation that cancer causes in a patient’s being and their life.  To know that they take the food they serve as seriously as the treatments they prescribe made it all the more real to us the vital role of organic produce plays in our health.

After all, we are what we eat.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America
at Western Regional Medical Center
14200 W. Fillmore Street
Goodyear, Arizona  85338

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Pam T permalink
    February 22, 2012 4:37 am

    Great article, as always. Congrats to McClendon’s on being the only organic farm that this center wants to feed their patients. I am surprised (well, maybe not!) that other hospitals haven’t stepped on the band wagon to only serve organic foods (they certainly charge enough to afford to). I tend to agree with you that the pesticide and chemically ridden foods (and shampoos, moisturizers, etc…hello, cosmetic industry…wake up!) contribute to cell destruction and illness. I hope no one in my family ever has to see the inside of that place, but if we do, at least I know that they will ‘have our backs!’ Thanks for reporting on your tour.

  2. Jeri Ann permalink
    February 22, 2012 5:24 pm

    Well done! You’re absolutely right – your affiliation with them just makes sense. My hubby and I went on a diet on 2009. He lost 50 lbs., which made it easier for him to find the lump in his groin (lymphoma). We had been eating your produce for only a few short months, but as the doctor told us – the growth had been there longer, and my hubby was a lot better off with his organic diet already in place. We truly believe it aided in his successful recovery. (Still cancer free at this point!) Just adds to the reason we would want to go to CTCA (if we had to) knowing that McClendon’s is there with us!

    • February 22, 2012 10:33 pm

      Wow – thank you for sharing. I am so glad that your husband has had a successful recovery. What an amazing and inspiring story. Our best wishes to you both!

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