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Registered Dietitians are Critical Part of Cancer Care at Smilow Cancer Hospital

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

New Haven, CT — Albert Rubino knows the importance of having a registered dietitian be involved in his cancer care at Smilow Cancer Hospital. In 2017, he was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer. It’s a type of head and neck cancer found in the middle part of the throat.

“Treating my cancer was very difficult as I had many rounds of chemotherapy and radiation,” said Mr. Rubino. “The therapy worked wonders fighting my cancer, but the effects of the radiation and the need of a feeding tube permanently changed my eating habits. I could no longer tolerate many foods and I needed to maintain a healthy weight to help beat this disease.”

Vanessa Salino, MS, RD, CSO, CDN, is a registered dietitian who is a certified specialist in Oncology Nutrition at Smilow. She partnered with Mr. Rubino’s clinical care team to develop a plan for good nutrition to help Mr. Rubino alleviate treatment side effects. 

“A registered dietitian can help in many ways. We can recommend strategies to help decrease side effects such as trouble swallowing, sore mouth, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, taste changes, diarrhea or constipation,” said Ms. Salino. “We’re here to help assist patients achieve and maintain optimal body weight, which can mean either preventing unintentional weight loss or weight gain.” Registered dietitians are also able to provide evidence-based information regarding dietary supplements as well as offer reliable answers for nutrition-related questions. If needed, they’re skilled to manage advanced methods of nutrition such as feeding tubes and intravenous nutrition. 

Ms. Salino met with Mr. Rubino after each oncologist appointment during his treatment at Smilow Cancer Hospital. After having his feeding tube removed, he was placed on a puree diet with thickened liquid and gradually switched to a soft food diet, which he continues to follow.

“There was no way I would have known what to eat and how to prepare it without the guidance Vanessa provided me,” said Mr. Rubino. “Along with the entire Smilow team, she was outstanding!”

“For many of my patients, something that once gave them joy [eating], has become an unpleasant chore,” said Ms. Salino. “They can rapidly lose weight and risk the development of malnutrition, so it’s so rewarding when I can make a difference in the lives of patients like Al.”

Now, almost four years since his last cancer treatment, Mr. Rubino is cancer free and maintaining a healthy weight. He continues to consult with Ms. Salino about improving his caloric intake and the quality of his food choices, including suggesting different foods that he may not have tried before.

For patients, Ms. Salino’s best advice is to be flexible. “A lot can change during any given treatment course, including diet,” said Ms. Salino. And her advice for family and caregivers? “Be empathetic and flexible as well. It may be hard to understand that the patient’s relationship with food has changed and may continue to change,” said Ms. Salino. “If caregivers are able, offering some easy to eat meals, plus love and understanding is a great way to show support.” 

Mr. Rubino also has advice for fellow cancer patients. “I think many people don’t want to ask for help, but I would tell anyone going through this journey that I’m glad I did,” added Mr. Rubino. “Having a registered dietitian like Vanessa on my team helped produce a positive outcome in my cancer care and that’s all we hoped for.”

For more information about nutrition services at Smilow Cancer Hospital, go to: visit Nutrition at Yale Cancer Center, call 203-688-0705 or email [email protected] for an appointment.