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Dietician Nina van der Linden: 'Everything is more difficult when the nutrition is not optimal'

Good nutrition is very important for children with cancer. They may cope better with the treatment, and quality nutrition is indispensable for their growth and development. But eating well is often not easy if you have cancer. Nina van der Linden, dietician in the Máxima, explains how she and her colleagues can help children and parents.

The Máxima has a team of four dieticians (see photo). Nina van der Linden is one of them. ‘Children with cancer run the risk of becoming malnourished, because of the disease itself or because of side-effects of the treatment. If you are nauseous or if your taste and smell change, of course you may not feel like eating. And that in turn has an effect on the treatment. You are less able to cope with side effects, your resilience deteriorates and surgical wounds heal more slowly, for example. In reality, everything is more difficult if the food is not good'.

Thinking about nutrition
The doctor or specialised nurse can ask the dieticians for advice in case of nutrition problems. Van der Linden: 'First we look for a solution with normal nutrition. How can you enrich food in such a way that a child receives sufficient protein and calories? If that's not enough, we often give extra bottles of drinkable food or other supplements. And if that doesn't work sufficiently either, a child may be given a feeding tube'. Sometimes a child is not malnourished, but has another problem. Drugs like prednisone can make you gain weight, for example. In that case it's about not eating too much, but getting the right nutrients.

Following along on a morning visit
‘Dietary advice has become an important part of the treatment in the Máxima,’ says Van der Linden. ‘On the third floor, at the beginning of this year, we attended the doctors' morning visits once a week. We saw immediate progress from this, and thought along with them about whether a child might need something extra in regards to nutrition. Because of corona, we have temporarily halted this, but the first experiences were very good. In time, more and more doctors and nurses see that nutrition problems can arise in a child, and they can turn to us for advice. As soon as we can, we will also make visits on the second floor’.

Advice for parents
The dieticians consult with the doctors about the place of nutrition in the treatment at the Máxima, and they participate in scientific research into the influence of nutrition, taste and smell in children with cancer. Van der Linden: 'More and more doctors and nurses see how important good nutrition is for children. But we are also there for parents who have questions about nutrition for their child. They can ask us for advice via the doctor or nursing specialist, so that they themselves can better help their child maintain good nutrition'.

More information
Do you have questions or concerns about a (possible) nutrition problem in your child? If so, ask the doctor or nursing specialist about the possibilities of getting advice from one of the dieticians at the Máxima. Would you like to read more? Here you find a nice general brochure about nutrition and nutritional problems in children with cancer.