Cancer center dietitian faces his own cancer diagnosis

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Eating healthy is an everyday challenge many of us face. But, for cancer patients, struggling with nausea and loss of appetite, maintaining a healthy diet can be especially challenging.

Nathan Schober sees the power of food every day, on the job as a lead clinical dietitian at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Newnan, Georgia.

Schober works with patients struggling with the side effects of treatment and the changes cancer can bring.

"They have a drive to eat, but they're unable to because of the treatments they're getting," Schober explains.  "The chemotherapy, the radiation.  They can't chew.  They can't swallow."

Schober works in the hospital's ICU, with patients on IV or supplemental nutrition.

He's seen the nutritional obstacles cancer patients face at every stage of their cancer journeys.

"Taste changes is a big one," Schober says.  "Foods don't taste right. Water tastes metallic to them."

In January, Schober started having some odd symptoms of his own. He developed a strange rash on his legs, a lump in his neck, and started spiking a temperature.

"I was having some fevers that I was writing off as being sick in the wintertime," he remembers.

A runner, he found himself too weak to get on the treadmill at the gym.

"I wish I had listened to my body a little bit earlier," Schober says. "I knew something wasn't quite right."

When his wife finally made him go to the doctor, Schober was sent immediately to the ER.

He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma at 30.

"The next week I started chemotherapy," he says.

Overnight, the cancer dietitian became the cancer patient.

"I ended up having pretty bad nausea, a mouth infection, troubles with bowel function, and all those things," he remembers.

The chemotherapy, and then the radiation was harder on his body and appetite than Schober expected. Still, he says, he tried to pace his eating, to keep up his strength.

 "I had a good week and a bad week," Schober says.  "So, I would struggle through one week and then eat all the things that I should, enjoying my food while I could."

He finished his treatment in July of 2017. Now back on the job, Schober's hard-earned experience helps him connect with patients like 53-year old mother of 2 Anita Williams,  diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.

"I stopped with a lot of meat. I stepped away from the beef and the pork," said Williams, who is now cancer-free, feels fortunate she never lost her appetite.

But changing her diet helped her get through treatment. 

"It gets you not focused on feeling sorry for yourself, but it gets you focused on getting better," Williams says.

Nathan Schober says his own cancer experience helped him slow down, and really hear what his patients are telling him.

"I'm not trying to get to the end goal quite so quickly, just meeting the patient where they are, and then moving forward," he says.

For patients struggling to eat, Schober says, go slowly. He learned to skip big meals, and instead eat small amounts throughout the day, concentrating on anything that was easy to tolerate.

Later this month, Nathan Schober will undergo more scans to see the chemo and radiation worked. 

But he's hopeful and grateful for what this experience has taught him.

"My big thing has been to appreciate every day, and not take any of them for granted," Schober says.  "Be as happy as you can every day, as a choice."