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New food pantry to serve cancer patients as treatment costs rise

Ten years ago Sandria McLemore had surgery to treat breast cancer. Everything was fine until 2019.

COVINGTON, La. — It's a partnership you might not think of putting together, a food pantry, inside of a hospital, but this year, there's is an increasing number of people who need that help.

Ten years ago Sandria McLemore had surgery to treat breast cancer. Everything was fine until 2019. She thought her backaches were just from arthritis, but then a blood clot gave the doctor a different clue.

“Metastatic breast cancer in the bone is incurable, but it is manageable, so I mean I could live a good long time,” said Sandria McLemore of Bedico, who is being treated at the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Covington.

With the cancer now in several places in her bones, there were radiation treatments. At times, her sewing and upholstering business suffered as well. Sandria did something she's never had to do before, get help with groceries when she felt others with cancer had a greater need.

“This does get me emotional when I see so many other people downstairs that are in such bad shape,” McLemore said of patients she sees at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center.

That help came from the food pantry right inside the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Covington where she is being treated. Most of the food supplies come from Second Harvest Food Bank.

And this year the need for food is doubling. Screenings were delayed by the pandemic, so cancer is being found at later stages. There’s record inflation in food, and gas to travel to treatment, and then add that to the medical cost of cancer treatment and medication.

One patient, because of the increased financial burden of getting cancer treatment, couldn't afford to go to the grocery store, so he started a garden to grow his own food at home.

And all he could grow was potatoes, so that's all he was eating all day long.

“So I have people who have had treatment for years and years and years who I have never seen darken my door, come in and say, ‘Never thought I'd be here, but need your help,’” said Maeghan Jacob, the licensed clinical social worker at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center.  

And that food help is not just financial, it's for better health as well.

“Either people have less money to purchase food, or they're buying cheaper food, and sometimes buying cheaper food is not the best thing,” said Michael Miranda, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center administrator.

“A good well-balanced diet, one may be high in protein, helps with your overall health, and we need your overall health as good as possible to be able to go through some of these treatments for cancer,” said Dr. Jack Saux of Northshore Oncology Associates who treats patients at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center.

“It came in very, very handy for me at a time when I was low on funds, and it was a Godsend. It really was it was a blessing,” added McLemore.

And that blessing is for all of the cancer patients there. No one is turned away.

Patients are also taught by a registered dietician, how to prepare the food in a more healthful way.

Second Harvest has several hospital-based food banks in south Louisiana. One of them is in University Medical Center.

Click here if you’d like to donate to Second Harvester’s Food Bank.

If you’d like to donate to Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center click here.

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