Spotlight: Helping Patients Hungry for Nutrition Knowledge
Eating is a basic part of life. But chemotherapy and radiation treatments can seriously affect a person’s relationship with food.
That’s where Greta Macaire can help. A registered dietitian at UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, Macaire helps cancer patients manage their diets to help them ease their symptoms and simply feel better.
“Greta has been wonderful,” says Marilyn Amsden, a UCSF patient with slow-growing pancreatic cancer. “She’s helped me to build up my immune system. She’s always there and always upbeat.”
Macaire is an oncology nutritionist who joined the Cancer Center in 2007. A San Francisco native, she has always been fascinated by food and nutrition, but had a first career as a hotel concierge. She has a master’s degree in dietetics from San Francisco State University with a specialization in nutrition for cancer survivors.
“I wanted to do more, to give back, to do something more meaningful,” she says.
After graduation, Macaire spent five years as a registered dietitian at California Pacific Medical Center. Her assignments there included teaching about nutrition at a food bank’s outreach pantries and in San Francisco public schools. At CPMC she also worked at medical clinics for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and for cancer patients receiving radiation treatment.
Working with cancer patients gave her the most satisfaction. “Patients with cancer are really motivated to make changes and to do things to help themselves feel better,” Macaire says. “They are thirsty for everything you have to say and very thankful for whatever help you can give them.”
Macaire says Diller’s Ida & Joseph Friend Cancer Resource Center is a tremendous resource.
“UCSF patients with cancer can come and get personalized hand-holding with a great social work team,” she says. “Patients can talk to one of our volunteers and find out about everything they can take advantage of there.”
Services include a peer-support program, art therapy, exercise advice, and free diet and nutrition counseling. “Diet for cancer patients or survivors is not one size fits all. The diet needs to be individualized,” Macaire says. “We consider the whole person. I don’t think there’s one right or wrong answer for any particular person.”
Macaire also hosts monthly workshops on cancer-related nutrition topics, including special classes for patients with breast or prostate cancer.
Macaire considers the patient’s kind of cancer and treatment phase when tailoring a diet. Her goals are to help minimize the risk of recurrence and to maximize the quality of life.
She tries to practice good health habits herself. A former marathon runner, Macaire now runs shorter distances, practices yoga, goes bicycling and loves to take long city walks.
Not surprisingly, she also likes to cook and eat well. Macaire’s favorite cuisines include Indian, Thai, Japanese and Mediterranean. “There’s not much I don’t like,” she says.
Her knowledge and positive spirit let patients know that they have a strong ally in the fight against cancer. “If you ever have a question or concern, Greta is there for you,” Amsden says.