'Chemo Friendly Restaurants'

Program invites eateries to better serve cancer patients

Program invites eateries to better serve cancer patients

October 18, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Dick Bowman no longer can taste the strawberries in strawberry shortcake, the flavor of steak or potatoes or marinara sauce. Recently, his tastes have been limited to clam chowder, crab soup and Cocoa Puffs cereal.

Chemotherapy for his terminal pancreatic cancer has robbed Bowman of his sense of taste - but his failing health hasn't stripped him of his positive attitude, sense of humor or desire to help others.

The Hagerstown resident has launched a program to make it easier for local cancer patients to enjoy dining out - perhaps the only program of its kind in the nation, said Julie Overbaugh, community manager for the American Cancer Society in Washington County, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and three counties in Virginia.


"We were really excited when Mr. Bowman brought forth his project idea," she said. "I think it's something that will really benefit people undergoing treatments for cancer."

"Chemo Friendly Restaurants" requires only a small commitment from doctors and restaurant owners to improve cancer patients' quality of life, said Bowman, 57.

"I think this is something that would help a lot of people without being a lot of trouble for anybody. It doesn't cost anybody anything. It doesn't require anybody to go out of their way," Bowman said. "It's basically a commitment on the part of the restaurants to work as best as they can with the patient. They'll at least have a sticker that says they care about people."

It works like this: Oncologists give chemotherapy patients a credit card-sized "Chemo Friendly Restaurants" card that patients can then present to servers at participating eateries, which display a sticker with the "Chemo Friendly Restaurants" logo to signal their participation in the program. Those restaurants allow chemo patients to order smaller portions - such as from the children's menu - if their appetite is the problem, or to sample different menu items if their taste is the problem. Restaurateurs aren't expected to allow cardholders to try every menu item - only those within reason, Bowman said.

"I couldn't sample half a 20-ounce steak, but I might be able to try the spaghetti sauce or whatever," he said. "One or two bites is usually enough to tell."

A number of local restaurants - including Richardson's Restaurant, Cracker Barrel, Long John Silvers, Flamers Charbroil, Tri-Angle Restaurant, Fireside Restaurant & Lounge, Panda China and Fazoli's Restaurant - already have pledged support for the initiative, Bowman said.

"We want to help," said Bobby Resh, owner of Richardson's Restaurant on Dual Highway. "People going through chemotherapy, sometimes their taste is affected. They're going through an adverse situation anyway."

Changing tastes

Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can alter the taste of food, diminish appetite, and cause dry mouth, sore mouth and throat and other side effects, Overbaugh said.

"It's a very individual thing. Each person has some quirky little things that work or don't work," Bowman said. "It's hit or miss."

For example, one of his favorite foods - hot chicken - tasted fine one day and tasteless the next. Now, Bowman sometimes can experience the taste of chicken when it's cold, he said. Many cancer patients might hesitate to order a menu item that costs more than $15 if they don't know how it will taste; some patients will stay home rather than draw attention to themselves at restaurants by asking for special treatment, he said.

With "Chemo Friendly Restaurants," cancer sufferers need only show their server a small card.

"For whatever period of time, they'll have some sense of normalcy," Bowman said.

The program likely will have widespread appeal for cancer patients in Washington County and, hopefully, beyond, Overbaugh said.

"They are often quite apprehensive about going out and ordering a huge menu item and it not being what they expected," she said. "They still want to enjoy it, but as soon as they bring it out, it's almost a turnoff. It can be very overwhelming to them."

A friendly partnership

Bowman said he contacted the American Cancer Society with his idea because "I didn't want them to think there was some loose cannon out there doing cancer stuff." The cancer society is now spreading the word about "Chemo Friendly Restaurants" through the organization's newsletter, and volunteers are contacting area restaurants to request their participation. Bowman had planned to visit each restaurant in Washington County to solicit support for the project, he said.

He didn't ask the cancer society for financial support, but Overbaugh offered to help fund the project. Bowman declined.

"I made the commitment that as long as I live I will finance the printing - realizing that's not a long-term commitment because of my diagnosis," he chuckled.

Bowman was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in October 2002. Doctors estimated he would live three to four months, he said. Bowman continued to work for the next year while undergoing chemotheraphy - missing only one day of work due to illness - before retiring in December 2003 from his 28-year career as executive director of Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village in Boonsboro.

Bowman said he doesn't dwell on his grim prognosis, preferring instead to live each day to its fullest.

"He's got this wonderful sense of humor, and it really has helped us get through this," said his wife, Carolyn Bowman.

To register for, or learn more about "Chemo Friendly Restaurants," call Dick Bowman at 301-790-2949.

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