Diane and Phil Hannah started their lifelong journey together as neighbors who would talk to each other from their bedroom windows. They were high school sweethearts before they married in 1952. They supported each other through 67 years of marriage, four sons, six grandchildren, five great grandchildren and most recently, Diane's heart surgery and Phil's skin cancer diagnosis. Diane and Phil now needed additional support, and they found it through New Milford Hospital's Eating Well program.
Undergoing treatment for skin cancer
In November 2018, Phil was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, on his nose. Then, in April 2019, he was again diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma -; this time, on his head.
Under the care of Joseph Bargellini, MD, radiation oncologist at the New Milford Hospital Diebold Family Cancer Center, Phil had 16 rounds of radiation therapy to treat the skin cancer on his nose. He also had 20 rounds of radiation therapy to treat the skin cancer on his head.
Diane, steadfast by Phil's side, took him to all of his treatments at New Milford Hospital, which were every day, Monday through Friday. Phil walks with assistance and sometimes uses a wheelchair. So getting to the treatments was taxing on Diane and Phil.
Between Diane's recovery from heart surgery and then caring for Phil, she went from 115 pounds to 104 pounds. The couple had less time and energy to complete everyday household tasks, including grocery shopping and meal preparation.
Diane and Phil raised their family on a farm in Newtown, Connecticut. To this day, they prefer to eat organic, fresh foods and prepare their meals from scratch. Diane used to go to several grocery stores to get specific items, such as goat's milk, fish, and produce. She also would often prepare meal ingredients in advance, cutting vegetables or sautéing onions in the morning, so the ingredients could be thrown together quickly at dinnertime.
"With Phil's treatment, I wasn't sure when I would have time to prepare meals for us anymore," said Diane. "I couldn't imagine doing all of the household work, shopping for food, taking Phil to his treatments, then coming home and making supper -; all when I wouldn't have time to prep the food in the morning."
Diane and Phil don't dine out and they don't eat prepackaged food, so the couple just wasn't eating.
The Eating Well program
The couple received an unexpected helping hand from Phil's care team -; meal vouchers for New Milford Hospital's Eating Well program.
The Eating Well program was created in 2017 as an extension of New Milford Hospital's Plow to Plate program. Plow to Plate meals are freshly prepared onsite with organic ingredients sourced from local farms, antibiotic-free meats, and healthier cooking techniques like grilling instead of frying and no high fructose corn syrup. Plow to Plate meals are available every day for all New Milford Hospital patients, visitors, staff, and community members.
Through the Eating Well program, patients at the Diebold Family Cancer Center and their caregivers receive vouchers for a free, Plow to Plate meal after each chemotherapy or radiation therapy session. Patients and caregivers have the option to dine-in or carry-out from the New Milford Hospital café.
"I was shocked when they gave us the vouchers. I started to cry," said Diane. "It was such a gift."
Diet and nutrition are key components in recovery after illness. Our Eating Well program brings local farmers, local culinary students who learn in the New Milford Hospital kitchen, and local donors together to support friends and neighbors in our community who have cancer."
Kerry Gold, director of dining service, New Milford Hospital
Kerry and Cindy Tyler, RN, OCN, CBCN, CN-BN, breast care navigator at New Milford Hospital, brought the Eating Well program to life along with dedicated staff from the cancer center and dining services.
"We" have cancer
A cancer diagnosis affects more than just the patient -; it also affects the caregiver. New Milford Hospital established the Eating Well program to offer comfort to patients and caregivers during a difficult time.
"We hear our patients and their caregivers say, 'We have cancer'. That's how much cancer impacts a couple," said Cindy. "We know that caring for a loved one with cancer can be overwhelming for a caregiver and can take a toll on their well-being too. This is why we include our patients and their caregivers in our Eating Well program -; following treatment at the cancer center, they have the added benefit of easy access to healthy, balanced meals from our café."
Nutritious, delicious, and convenient
Diane and Phil appreciate the convenience of the Eating Well program and recognize the benefits, including being able to eat the way they are used to eating -; clean, fresh, and local.
"It's great because New Milford Hospital food service staff cook the way that I do," said Diane. "It's important to me that we keep following the diet we like."
Since participating in the Eating Well program, Diane has gained back some of the weight she lost.
"I'm quite thrilled with the voucher program, it makes life a lot better. I'm especially happy that it's for Diane too. She does so much for me," said Phil. "We come to the hospital for my treatments, and then we get a voucher, and bingo! we have food for the day."
Diane and Phil never miss going to the café. Phil said that although he goes to the hospital for radiation therapy, he looks forward to going to the café and seeing what's new on the menu. Thanks to the generous servings, the couple said they often had enough food for lunch and dinner.
"They have a wonderful selection," said Phil. "The menus are well thought out and varied, and the food is excellent. We can go and pick up what we want, and we get something for both of us."
Diane's favorite Plow to Plate items include salmon, vegetable soup, and the salad bar. Phil enjoys the chicken pot pie, different types of fish, and freshly prepared soups -; especially potato and leek.
Diane and Phil said that the Eating Well program is one of the things that contributed to their positive care experience at New Milford Hospital's Diebold Family Cancer Center.
"The cancer center is a special place. We're part of a family," said Diane said. "I'm very much 'pro' the Eating Well program. They're covering every aspect of a person's well-being -; physical and emotional."