A Blueprint For Wellness

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Dietitians at St. Francis Hospital put their whole heart into cancer care

(Photos courtesy of St. Francis Hospital)

St. Francis Hospital is known for its reputation as The Heart Center, quite literally and figuratively. With a staff at the top of their game, the focus turns to the team of warm and caring dietitians that truly put their heart into the cancer care of patients. The hospital’s collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to health and wellness has earned high marks for 12 years, with U.S. News & World Report ranking it the best hospital for cardiology on Long Island.

The Cancer Institute at St. Francis Hospital was initiated in 2013 and what began in the hospital as an outpatient confined to a single floor with oncologists and a few beds for infusions, quickly grew to a need for an entire building. The outpatient, state-of-the-art facility is now conveniently located minutes away from the hospital campus at 2200 Northern Boulevard in East Hills.

“St. Francis gave me the opportunity to specialize in a special field like oncology late in my career and be the first registered dietitian in The Cancer Institute,” says dietitian Julie Ceyhan. “I’m very proud of the role I played (and continue to play). Luckily I’ve been able to work with a dream team.”

In addition, a radiation facility was also opened on the same campus. With everything under one roof, collaboration is made easier between oncologists and dietitians. Many oncology dietitians agree that nutrition puts power back into the patient’s hands. And equipping patients with information about their health and wellness is just one small part of their job.

Dietitians Christina Adduci, MS, RD, CSO, CDN and Karen Z. Berg, MS, RD, CDN at one of St. Francis Hospital’s many nutrition fairs to promote health and wellness.

Christina Adduci is the Clinical Nutrition Manager at St. Francis and is also a board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition. It is her job to develop and maintain policies, procedures and programs to ensure that all nutrition care activities comply with the standards established by local, state and federal regulatory agencies for optimal nutrition care for patients at both St. Francis Hospital and The Cancer Institute at St. Francis Hospital.

“The nutrition programs at The Cancer Institute are constantly evolving largely due to our patients’ feedback. In addition, we have close working relationships with other departments and organizations, within and outside The Cancer Institute, to provide a unified approach to patient care,” says Adduci of how the programs get developed. “I work alongside a very passionate and enthusiastic nutrition team both inpatient and outpatient and our patients mean everything to us. We put them front and center when creating new programs in order to maintain high quality care and provide the best possible patient experience.”

Adduci says that she and her colleagues do their best to put themselves in their patients’ shoes to truly feel what those patients are feeling.

Although she is also a dietitian at St. Francis, Karen Berg wears a lot of hats. While she sees patients who are currently undergoing active treatment for different types of cancers, helping them through their journey, she also works with grant writers for the hospital’s nutrition programs and helps to assess the community’s needs for information.

“People are just starving for information on nutrition, which plays a huge role in your life at any given point,” says Berg, who created the Eat. Chat. Move. series for breast and gynecological cancer patients. “We ask people what else they want to know and what they need from us.”

Julie Ceyhan RD, CSO, CDN serves up delicious treats on Shake Day.

In Rayna Herskowitz’s unique role at the hospital, she divides her week as a clinical dietitian in both the outpatient setting, through The Cancer Institute at St. Francis Hospital, as well as the inpatient setting through the hospital.

“I get to follow our patients through different stages of their treatment course,” says Herskowitz. “Throughout my work week, I speak with patients and families to complete nutrition assessments and nutrition education. Specific to my outpatient role, I participate in many free programs for community members.”

Throughout the year, Herskowitz teaches the Eat. Chat. Move. program with Berg and also works with other oncology dietitians to develop Cooking is Caring, gather prizes and donations for Survivorship Day and attends health fairs.

“We work with many members of the St. Francis Team, including our dedicated social workers to put on events for community members, such as The Summer Series,” she says of the many programs that provide an opportunity to teach about nutrition. “Working in the ever-evolving field of nutrition is a really special opportunity and after all, we are all touched by food.”

Rayna Herskowitz, RD, CDN, and Stefani Pappas, MS, RD, CSO, CDN whip up an apple crisp.

For the past 12 years in a row, St. Francis has been ranked as the number one hospital in cardiology. According to Stefani Pappas, a senior clinical oncology dietitian at The Cancer Institute, St. Francis has taken its excellence in heart health and expanded that into their oncology services, led by distinguished oncologist Bhoomi Mehrotra, M.D.

“Our outpatient Cancer Institute houses all-inclusive care: medical oncology, radiation oncology, infusion care and radiology are all together under one roof, which allows patient needs to be met in an efficient manner and assists our interdisciplinary team in working collaboratively,” says Pappas, who is also a board certified specialist in oncology nutrition and works alongside Ceyhan, Berg and Herskowitz. “Good nutrition during cancer treatment is imperative to help meet the increased nutritional demands required to support the healing process. Nutrition therapy is used to help cancer patients maintain a healthy body weight, preserve strength, keep body tissue healthy, and decrease side effects both during and after treatment.”

As with any illness, the benefits of good nutrition is vital. During cancer treatment, proper nutrition helps reduce complications, provide better quality of life, and most importantly, allows for the patient’s body to tolerate full treatment as prescribed.

“As oncology dietitians, we also work with patients throughout the cancer continuum, which includes prevention, during treatment and survivorship,” says Pappas, who participates in several health fairs and speaking engagements throughout the year with her colleagues, educating the public on cancer prevention strategies. “We hope to continue to provide innovative and informative programs to our patients throughout the cancer continuum. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming, but nutrition is one of the few things that patients have control and power over during treatment.”

St. Francis Hospital is located at 100 Port Washington Boulevard in Roslyn. For more information, call 516-562-6000 or visit stfrancisheartcenter.chsli.org.

It’s all about overall health at St. Francis Hospital. These free nutrition-based programs, many of which are geared towards cancer survivors, and supported by the Manhasset Women’s Coalition Against Breast Cancer (MWCABC), are available.

Cooking Is Caring Cookshop

Funded by MWCABC

This event is held at the Food & Nutrition Lab on the LIU Post Campus. In this program, caregivers and patients learn how to prepare a simple and healthy meals like zucchini boats and an autumn quinoa salad.

Nourish Care Connect

Funded by MWCABC

This three-week nutrition series brought together oncology dietitians from the Cancer Institute and oncology social workers. Dietitians teach patients and caregivers how to create easy and nutritious recipes, while social workers foster meaningful discussion on how to cope through treatment.

Shake Days

Funded by MWCABC

Oncology dietitians occasionally double as chefs, creating calorically and nutrient-dense shakes for patients to enjoy while they receive transfusions. Shake Days take place monthly and have been enjoyed by more than 400 patients.

Eat Chat Move

Established by Karen Berg, Eat Chat Move is a 12-week program for breast and gynecological cancer patients. The program is done in collaboration with the Sid Jacobson JCC Nancy Marx Cancer Wellness Program and combines both nutrition and exercise components.

4 Your Health

This four-week nutrition series is held at the Sid Jacobson JCC and features a one-hour nutrition discussion on dietary recommendations for survivorship. One session includes a tour at Whole Foods Market where patients are educated on what to buy and how to read labels.

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Jennifer Fauci is the senior editor of Long Island Weekly, Anton Media Group's award-winning special sections and Anton’s local magazines. Her passion for literature, travel and the arts lend to the unique content in her publications. In her time at Anton, she has received first place in the Folio Awards, second place for the NYPA awards and is the recipient of six PCLI awards.

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