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Athletics employee helps fellow patients improve nutrition

By Sally Winter, special to IU Today

November 01, 2021

Hope Kaser noticed something unusual while she was receiving chemotherapy treatment for leukemia at the hospital. Kaser, the assistant director of Indiana University Athletics Dining Services, saw other patients ordering trays of food, when eating was the last thing her nauseated stomach wanted during treatment. Hope Kaser. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University.  Hope Kaser. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University.

“Everyone around me was ordering hospital food. I thought, ‘Is there a great chef here or something?’”

One of the nurses told Kaser no, it wasn’t the cuisine. For some cancer patients, it’s the only meal they’ll have that day, either because they can’t cook for themselves, or their elderly spouse doesn’t know where to start.

“That struck me as so sad. And it’s something that had never occurred to me before,” Kaser said. “A lot of patients in the infusion center were older, and I can only imagine if you’ve been married for 40 or 50 years, and your wife is the one diagnosed with cancer, you don’t even know how to cook because she’s always done it.”

As someone who oversees the feeding of athletes and eventgoers in the IU athletic facilities, Kaser appreciates the importance of proper nutrition. She began looking into food insecurity support in Bloomington and was pleased to find resources like Hoosier Hills Food Bank and Community Kitchen of Monroe County.

While researching cancer patient resources, Kaser noticed there weren’t as many options for people who hadn’t begun treatment, until she connected with the Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana out of Indianapolis. The organization just happened to be expanding into Bloomington, thanks to a grant from the Bloomington Health Foundation.

“When the Cancer Support Community said they planned to offer their Cooking for Wellness class down here, I wanted to help get those resources started,” Kaser said. “I shared with them the resources I found about food banks so they could share it with other cancer patients. If you are alone with a cancer diagnosis, and you need food delivery in town, there are places that do this.”

Ultimately, Kaser connected the Cancer Support Community with her team in IU Athletic Dining Services to secure a location for the first cooking class in Bloomington, at the Tobias Nutrition Center in IU’s Memorial Stadium.

“We are incredibly excited and grateful to Hope for coming forward with the idea of hosting the Nutrition for Wellness class,” said Katie Tremel, program manager for Cancer Support Community of South Central Indiana. “We are scheduled to move into our new building in November, but until we get settled, we don’t have a space to hold events like this. Hope has graciously secured a great, open space at Tobias Nutrition Center with a lovely view of Memorial Stadium. We could not ask for a better kickoff to our Nutrition for Wellness Program.”

Chef Kevin Koessler teaching the Oct. 10 class. Photo courtesy Hope Kaser.  Chef Kevin Koessler teaching the Oct. 10 class. Photo courtesy Hope Kaser. Kaser also worked with the IU Athletics nutrition staff to provide information and materials on healthy food options and cooking ideas for cancer patients. The first Nutrition for Wellness Class on Oct. 10 was led by Kevin Koessler, executive chef for IU Athletics Dining Services.

“Chef put together a menu that he thought would hit all of the areas of a simple meal you can cook at home,” Kaser said. “If you don’t normally make salmon, he showed how simple it is to cook it and the benefits of eating it.

“We made salmon, brown rice and Brussels sprouts. It was his way of showing how to make good quality foods at home.”

Seven local cancer patients and family members attended the first cooking class, which was also supported by the Chocolate Moose, Cardinal Spirits and Upland Brewing Co. Many attendees share Kaser’s connection between food and cancer treatment.

“For me, nutrition is huge, and I radically changed my diet after my diagnosis,” said Laura Wisley, a Bloomington resident diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. “I was thrilled to see a cancer nutrition class offered in Bloomington.”

Wisley said that part of her cancer journey has been to heal herself through nutrition. After receiving little direction on proper nutrition from her doctors, she decided to go vegan and cut out sugar. She said she feels better than she has in years. Wisley said the cooking class helped her see ways to create a well-rounded meal using simple ingredients.

“Not only did the chef show us the actual ingredients and walked us through how to prepare it, he also answered our questions about things like which cooking oils are healthier,” Wisley said. “The chef is also a cancer survivor, so he was much more in tune with what is healthier for us.”

Another Nutrition for Wellness class is scheduled in Bloomington at the Tobias Nutrition Center on Nov. 6. Kaser said she is pleased to have a healthy cooking option for patients like herself in Monroe County.

“I sometimes struggle with my own diagnosis,” she said. “Leukemia is one of those cancers that isn’t talked about as much, and resources are limited.

“When you’re already dealing with so much as a cancer patient, knowing how to cook and where to find groceries can be one less struggle. Any way we can make it easier for someone else to find the resources they need is a good feeling.”