Spotlight on staff: Mhairi Donald, Consultant Dietitian

Mhairi Donald nutritional advice for cancer patients

You may have seen that we have some great recipe books available on our website so we thought we would catch-up with one of the ladies behind these fantastic books Mhairi Donald, to find out a little more about what Mhairi does and her connection with the Sussex Cancer Fund.

What is your name and job title?

Mhairi Donald – Consultant Dietitian

What is your role at the hospital?

“I support people affected by cancer who have specialist nutritional needs. That may vary from preparing someone who is about to embark on treatment, to supporting someone who is having nutritional problems as a result of their cancer or treatment, so, for example, they may be experiencing a reduced appetite or difficulty swallowing and need some practical suggestions to keep them nourished through their treatment. I also support groups of people affected by cancer at the end of their treatment at health and well-being events and through our cooking skills workshops “

How long have you worked here?

I have been in this role for the last 12 years, as well as supporting people affected by cancer; I have a development component to my job. This has allowed me to author chapters on diet and cancer in a number of clinical textbooks. I have been a member of a steering group which developed “A practical guide for lung cancer nutritional care. I have been part of a group which revised and update a series of booklets on nutrition in oncology and palliative care for a national resource company – nutrition and diet resources UK.

I am an active member of the British Dietetic Association Oncology specialist Interest group – which has also allowed me to help promote dietetics in the oncology field. I am currently in a working group developing a Tier 1 training course for dietitians new to oncology – which I hope will be a great way for us to help ensure that dietitians of the future are skilled and can proactively help people affected by cancer.

What is the best bit about your job?

The best bit is the face to face connections that I make with people affected by cancer and their families and carers. We take eating a bit for granted and when something goes wrong with the process it can be a real source of stress and upset for a patient and their family as well as affecting their physical ability to cope, it can affect their emotional well being.  Explaining what’s happening, helping to overcome food and nutrition problems and seeing the benefits is really rewarding. Providing individual counselling and good quality resources for patients and their families is at the very heart of what I do and enjoy.

I like to be part of a team so enjoy multidisciplinary team working it really helps us offer our patients a more seamless holistic approach.  

What is your connection with the Sussex Cancer Fund?

When I first started I could see the presence of the Sussex Cancer Fund doing good for patients everywhere around the centre from providing parking facilities, to new chairs and decorating our quite room. I first approached the fund to buy some weighing scales for the departments within the centre in order that patients could weigh themselves and there was better access for the other health professions to weigh people receiving treatment. Weight and weight changes are a very important clinical reference point, so it’s vital to have ready access to a working set of scales.  So my first experience was putting a bid in for the scales and them appearing and being used daily to this day!

How has the Sussex Cancer Fund helped you?

“I felt there was an unmet need for people going through treatment in terms of a practical resource with explanations to manage difficulties in eating, with practical suggestions and recipes in a format that was colourful and interesting. I decided that I would write a cookbook along with another oncology dietetic colleague of mine Dr Catriona Brooks. Having got it into a glossy format and tried and tested the recipes and have the wording agreed by people affected by cancer and their families … I realised that it would need funding to print and distribute. I approached the fund with a proposal that they would pay for the printing and distribution and all the money from the sales would come back to the Sussex Cancer Fund, to help support ongoing print runs and so “Every Mouthful Counts – Recipes and practical tips for people with cancer to make eating easier” was born. I have since gone on to write “Whizz it up recipes and practical tips for people with cancer to make eating and swallowing easier” and am just about to ask if they would support my most recent piece of work “The E word” designed for people with advanced cancer – so fingers crossed. These books are now sold all over the UK and beyond, they have gone as far as field as Australia ….

Have you done any fundraising for the Sussex Cancer Fund? If so, what did you do?

I am not a one for abseiling or running marathons although never say never … but I buy cakes at the cakes sales, buy Christmas present at their annual Christmas fair and shake the tins at various events. Every book that is sold also goes out advertising the fund and bringing money back into the fund and I’m very proud of that.

How has the Sussex Cancer Fund has made a difference?

I spoke to a gentleman yesterday who had been losing weight and was struggling to eat and he said it was joyful opening the book and understanding what was happening better and knowing that they are simple things he can do  and in fact had started to do and was feeling so much better …

It doesn’t get better than that and it wouldn’t have happened without the Sussex Cancer Fund .”

To find out more about the cookbooks written for cancer patients please visit Every Mouthful Counts or Whizz it Up

Or to buy a copy of Mhairi’s books at only £6.00 + £1.20 post and packing contact:

Julia Lenton
Fund Manager
Sussex Cancer Fund
Sussex Cancer Centre
Royal Sussex County Hospital
Brighton BN2 5BE
Telephone: 01273 664 930