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Operation Santa Claus

Cancer care centre offers patients food for thought with advice on building a diet for recovery

Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre is empowering patients with valuable knowledge on how eating right can aid recovery and help reignite a lost joy in food

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 November, 2017, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 November, 2017, 7:23pm

For many cancer patients, creating a balanced diet conducive to wellness can be a major challenge if they have not previously given much thought to healthy eating.

But they are not alone in overcoming such difficulties, with health experts from a local charity on hand to make their path to recovery smoother.

Helen Lui Wong Yun-fong, who runs Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre in Hong Kong, said the organisation had been aiming to help cancer patients regain the joy of eating while ensuring they got the nutrients needed to keep up their strength.

“We recommend simple dishes that look good, smell good and taste good. We want to boost patients’ interest in food, because the treatments they undergo may lead to loss of appetite,” she said.

Maggie’s offers programmes and professional advice on nutrition tailored to different body conditions before, during, and after cancer treatments.

Changing lives for good: Operation Santa Claus launches 30th instalment

“When people are diagnosed, they may review their lifestyle to find out whether it may have contributed to the disease and whether anything can be done to improve their health,” Lui said. “Diet is one of the key areas that patients look at.”

The charity has seen a growing demand for these practical health tips and plans to expand its services.

Its “Eating Well” project is scheduled for launch next year with funds from Operation Santa Claus, an annual fundraising campaign jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

How Operation Santa Claus started

Through a series of activities carried out at its specially designed centre at Tuen Mun Hospital, including one-on-one nutrition recommendation sessions and talks, the charity has sought to help patients better equip themselves for the challenges of the illness.

Patients can also consult dietitians at the centre’s Drop-in Q&A open sessions and workshops.

“We are not going to cook for them. We teach them through workshops about nutrition and healthy food choices. We teach them how to read food labels,” Lui said.

A recovering kidney cancer patient, who identified herself as Bella, said she had attended Maggie’s workshops and found the information very useful.

“I have learned to read food labels,” the 61-year-old former clerk said.

“I would eat everything. I didn’t find time to cook. These habits were bad,” Bella said, recalling her days before the disease.

“I lost interest in eating the moment I knew I had cancer.”

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Bella now cooks for herself and her family after quitting her job. She said she had become a lot more health-conscious after attending Maggie’s programmes on nutrition.

She was thankful for the support of the centre’s staff.

“The team has helped us get through the dark and difficult times,” she said.

The cancer centre organises a wide range of free programmes to provide emotional and psychosocial support for people affected by cancer.

The charity was founded by Maggie Jencks, who lived with advanced cancer for two years, during which time she used her knowledge and experience to create a blueprint for a new type of care.

The philanthropist saw the need for a welcoming place away from the setting of a hospital, where cancer patients, their families and friends could go for support.

The first Maggie’s Centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996, a year after her death. There are now 20 in the United Kingdom.

Jencks spent her younger years living in Hong Kong with her parents. In 2008, the charity opened a temporary centre at Tuen Mun Hospital.

The Hong Kong centre was then relocated five years later to its current venue, designed by architect Frank Gehry.