Like many other clinicians focusing on nutrition and cancer, registered dietitian Tiffany Barrett found her life’s purpose when she saw a family member diagnosed with a challenging illness. For Barrett, it was her grandmother and a battle with colon cancer.
Barrett always knew she wanted to work directly with people and help provide care in a hands-on capacity. Initially, she focused on wellness and exercise, but a growing fascination with life sciences and cuisine led her to nutrition. “And that was when my grandmother was sick,” she says, “while I was getting my degree in nutrition.”
Watching her grandmother’s journey helped Barrett realize that nutrition had an important role to play in medicine and in cancer treatment – and it led her to a path she’s been on ever since.
For nearly two decades, she has specialized in patient care as an oncology dietitian. She’s worked with hundreds of families and patients, and today, she manages seven registered dietitians at four of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University locations in Atlanta, Georgia.
In conversation, it’s obvious that Barrett is deeply committed to helping patients, families and their loved ones navigate the ups and downs of the cancer experience. When we spoke with her, she told us how she offers reliable guidance, and how she helps patients make informed, healthy lifestyle choices.
Q: What drew you to working with and/or for cancer patients and survivors? Did you see it as a calling?
A: I loved the oncology rotation during my dietetic internship. Within four months of my first job, I transferred to outpatient oncology. I honestly feel this is my calling and I was meant to work in this specialty. Cancer is a very emotional diagnosis, and nutrition is a big piece of this journey.
Q: Can you describe your educational background and career path?
A: I received my undergraduate degree in Food and Nutrition at Florida State University. I received my master’s degree from the University of North Florida, where I also completed my clinical internship.
Q: Can you tell us about your work at the Winship Cancer Institute, and how it serves the cancer community?
A: Our dietitians serve patients during treatment and survivorship. In addition to educating them on side effect management, we offer education to improve diet and lifestyle changes during and after treatment. Our team works very closely with Emory’s multidisciplinary teams to meet the needs of our patients early in treatment. We also hold a quarterly nutrition education class that (due to COVID-19) is now offered on Zoom. Transportation can often be a challenge for our patients, and we’ve found that using Zoom has increased participation as we can now reach all Winship locations. The class is open to any diagnosis. Prior to COVID-19, we conducted live cooking demonstrations, introducing the community to recipes, seasonal produce and a plant-based diet.
Q: How did you discover AICR and our resources?
A: Initially, I was looking for any resources I could to provide to patients as I was learning about oncology nutrition, too. AICR’s recipes and brochures were – and are – very useful tools to direct patients to for their own research. I’ve utilized AICR’s evidence-based report, Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective, for presentations. I continue to encourage patients to utilize all the resources AICR provides. We also include the AICR website link on many of our educational materials.
Q: How do you and Winship Cancer Institute utilize AICR’s resources?
A: Oh man! We use so many. Instead of me answering this question solo, I asked my staff for information on what resources they often use. They said they use all the recipes, infographics for cancer survivors and food safety, the blogs, and the challenges. (Basically, all of them!). AICR’s Healthy10 Challenge program is great for survivors who want long-term education. It’s really helpful for us since we have a small clinical staff and aren’t always able to produce long-term educational resources internally.
Q: How do the cancer patients and survivors that you work with benefit from AICR’s resources?
A: The registered dietitians at Winship Cancer Institute utilize the many resources from AICR to assist with education. The information is evidence based and clear for patients to further their understanding of the link between diet and cancer. Research can be very complex, but the AICR website provides explanations that are appropriate for cancer patients and caregivers. I especially want to highlight AICR’s Third Expert Report for up-to-date information and recommendations. AICR has resources (e.g., recipes, brochures, etc.) available at any time to enhance the recommendations we are providing in clinic visits.
Q: Have you seen the public awareness around nutrition, lifestyle and cancer risk evolving? If so, how?
A: Absolutely! Maybe it’s due to social media, but I see increased interest in what can be done to reduce risk but also in lifestyle changes. Patients are not always still looking for a quick fix. I have also noticed that patients have a greater desire to learn to cook and experiment with new foods and recipes.
Q: How do Winship Cancer Institute’s staff benefit from using AICR’s resources?
A: AICR’s resources have become a huge reference point for us in terms of long-term care and support. They allow us to empower patients. They’re great roadmaps that we can basically introduce patients to, and they basically give patients the tools they need to move forward confidently.
Q: How do AICR’s resources help Winship Cancer Institute fulfill its mission?
Winship’s mission is focused on providing cancer research and education. AICR provides our dietitians with the evidence-based education that we can provide our patients.
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