When Allie Farley’s brother was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, it altered her life’s trajectory as a nutritionist.
For as long as she could remember, Allie was dedicated to the science of nourishment. As a child, Allie’s mother had her and her brothers in the kitchen cooking many of the family meals. “I was taught to take pride in what we ate, and it encouraged me to make healthy choices from the start,” Allie recalls. Fostering a relationship with food for nourishment led Allie to pursue a career in nutrition.
It wasn’t until 2015, after her brother’s cancer diagnosis, that Allie’s life as a nutritionist would shift into oncology. Allie and her family endured the many extremes that accompany a cancer diagnosis. Together, they witnessed her brother’s fears, struggles and pain, but most importantly, celebrated his accomplishments when his scans showed he was cancer free.
Allie remembers, “It wasn’t until I was working in oncology that I realized I had learned so much from my brother’s cancer experience.” Allie embraced her heightened sense of empathy for loved ones and caregivers to someone with cancer. Her role had switched; no longer was Allie only part of the cancer care team, but a sister to the patient in treatment.
Allie questions if her life led her to this path of working within oncology. “Or was life taking me to my calling? I’m not sure. I do know that I will always strive to be a supportive and reliable resource for patients and their loved ones.”
Allie currently works as a dietitian at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center and utilizes AICR’s resources in a multitude of ways.
Allie enjoys how AICR’s resources are well received by so many of Massey’s cancer patients, caregivers, survivors, staff and community at large. “AICR’s resources provide information on not only what we should eat but how, when and why we eat for wellness, which participants have all benefited from,” Allie affirms.To read more on Allie’s story, check out her interview with AICR below!
Q: Was there a lightbulb moment in your life that sparked a passion for health and wellness?
A: For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about helping and educating others. As a knowledge seeker, I consistently enjoy learning about the growing field of medicine and nutrition. Now as a dietitian, I’ve had the opportunity to work not only in a hospital setting but through outreach as well. I’ve been able to use my skills to clinically counsel patients one-on-one and in public through outreach opportunities, like in my role at the VCU Massey Cancer Center.
Q: What specifically drew you to working with cancer patients and survivors?
A: Initially, I thought life naturally led me to my role working with cancer patients and survivors. However, I first started developing an interest in oncology nutrition when my older brother was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 2015. He is now a cancer survivor and thriving in so many ways. As a dietitian, I knew nutrition was important, but it wasn’t until my family and I were in the thick of it ourselves with my brother that I understood how vital nutrition is before, during and after cancer.
Q: Can you describe your educational background and career path?
A: I first began practicing as a registered dietitian at West Virginia University Medicine within the Mountain State Cystic Fibrosis Center following the completion of my master’s from Marshall University. Then, I started working for the VCU Massey Cancer Center in February 2018 as an outreach dietitian for the Integrative Health program.
Q: Can you tell us about your work at the VCU Massey Cancer Center and how it serves the cancer community?
A: I offer outreach nutrition education in multiple ways. I provide content for a nutrition blog on our resource page; in-person and virtual educational programming; assist in an onsite farm stand for patients, caregivers and staff; provide resources and presentations to cancer support groups; run a recipe sharing program; take part in a monthly physical activity program (inviting patients, caregivers and the community to walk with care team members within the VCU health system); mentor dietetic students and work closely with volunteers, as well as cancer survivors.
Q: Do the cancer patients and survivors who you work with benefit from AICR’s resources?
A: The resources are well received by many of our cancer patients, caregivers, survivors, staff and community at large. AICR’s resources provide information on not only what we should eat but how, when and why we eat for wellness, which participants have all benefited from.
Many patients and staff have also benefited from the resources reviewing nutrition through cancer treatment. Acknowledging that signs and symptoms may arise and how to navigate through those eating challenges can be difficult. The management tips and suggestions have and will continue to benefit our patient population and those caring for their loved ones.
We have so many success stories regarding shared resources correlated with our onsite Farm Stand, which may also be our most participated in and recognized program within our Integrative Health program. The Farm Stand is an offering and a collaboration between the VCU Massey Cancer Center and Shalom Farms (a non-profit organization in Richmond, VA). Our mission is to provide patients and families with access to fresh produce and offer educational resources that highlight the importance of nutrition in cancer prevention and management.
New and returning participants benefit from the wonderful produce, shared recipes, resources and open discussions regarding nutrition. Many individuals have expressed how AICR’s New American Plate grocery list, meal plan and One Pot Meals brochure have helped them take steps to making a healthier plate. Others have expressed how they have implemented some of the AICR nutrition management strategies while actively going through treatment. The collaboration we offer with fresh produce and educational resources allows participants to quickly put research into action!
Q: Have you seen public awareness around nutrition/lifestyle and cancer risk evolving?
A: Absolutely! Results following a 2018 patient satisfaction survey highlighted nutrition as our patient population’s most valued topic of interest. My role has grown from a survey request to a position offering nutrition programming and resources within the VCU Massey Cancer Center and throughout the community in only four years. The opportunity to provide ongoing programming and future nutrition initiatives has only sparked a greater interest for our patients, caregivers, staff and community.
AICR’s reliable resources help the VCU Massey Cancer Center fulfill its goals by enhancing high-quality conventional care. AICR’s resources also engage patients in an additional layer of patient satisfaction and customer service beyond the walls of the clinics, chemotherapy and radiation therapy centers. The nutrition resources offered by AICR have and will continue to assist individuals as they redesign their dietary habits to enhance their health.
Share your Story
If you share our passion for cancer prevention and quality survivorship, we would love to hear from you. Whatever your experience has been — whether you are a patient, caregiver, or loved one — AICR would be happy to add your story to this tapestry.