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Feature Article Healthy lifestyles take focus for cancer survivors

For Loren and Connie Smith of Albany, healthy survivorship is their new way of life.

The couple, both cancer survivors, recently completed a pilot 10-week nutrition series at the Samaritan Cancer Resource Center called “That’s my Farmer” that educates survivors about healthy shopping, eating locally, using supplements and the impact of fresh, wholesome foods. Participants were provided with a free crockpot, the book “Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-mile Diet,” and vouchers for produce at the Albany Farmers Market. That’s My Farmer is one of many no-cost support services offered through the Samaritan Cancer Program.

“Our goal with the class was to provide research-based education to cancer patients that is centered around nutrition and wellness but also touches on exercise and mental health — all aspects of survivorship,” said Jessica Davis, a dietitian at Samaritan Albany General Hospital who created the series.

“We learned how to shop and what questions to ask about the food we buy,” said Connie. “It’s made me more aware of how to take care of my own health.”

The couple also enjoyed learning what’s seasonal in Oregon and trying new vegetables and recipes at home.

“We’ve both been doing more in the kitchen,” said Connie. “We’re learning to try new foods and finding out they’re not so bad. I bought asparagus and bok choy for the first time. And I’ve fallen in love with sugar snap peas.”

Davis hopes that teaching cancer survivors the impact that nutrition has on cancer can help prevent a recurrence.

Connie will celebrate five years of survivorship in January following a breast cancer diagnosis. Loren has a chromosome abnormality that makes him more susceptible to cancerous growths. He is a six-year survivor of prostate cancer, but continues to have cancerous growths regularly removed from his skin and organs.

“It can be discouraging at times,” said Loren, “knowing that the diagnosis is always going to be pre-cancerous or cancerous, and you feel like it’s never going to stop. But I’ve learned not to ignore the signs if I see something I’m concerned about, and to do what I can to take care of myself.”

With a history of cancer for both Loren and Connie, they are very aware of the importance of being proactive about their health. Their commitment to nutrition and wellness has trickled down to their two daughters and five grandchildren who have started adopting healthier habits.

“It doesn’t mean there’s no room in life for french fries,” laughed Connie, “But I want to live to see my grandkids graduate.”

The Smiths also find joy in sharing their experiences with others. “Just to be a survivor is a good thing,” said Connie. “But to be a survivor and laugh and share and encourage people — that’s a blessing.