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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Christin Freeman and Devon Nish pick out some fruit and vegetables at the free farmers market for cancer patients at the Intermountain Medical Center Cancer Center in Murray on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. The produce is provided by the Green Urban Lunch Box.

MURRAY — Hugh Clawson is fighting pancreatic cancer for a second time.

But this time the disease is inoperable, so he's hoping the grueling treatments and some lifestyle changes will give him more time.

"I'm trying to be as healthy as I can be," 69-year-old Clawson said, adding that bimonthly chemotherapy leaves him wanting little food. "I eat as much as a half a child."

Clawson, of Kearns, went in for treatment Thursday and left with a paper sack filled with fresh, locally grown produce — specifically fruits and some tomatoes, which he says are his favorite.

"Nutrition is so important to our cancer patients' total health care," said Elisa Soulier, manager of the Intermountain Medical Center's LiVe Well oncology program. She said fresh foods contain disease-fighting properties and antioxidants that are vital to feeling well and strong.

"If a person stays stronger throughout treatment, it will yield better outcomes not only for the disease, but also lead to a better quality of life," Soulier said.

Twice this month, Soulier invited the Green Urban Lunch Box mobile farmers market to dole out Utah-grown fruits and vegetables to cancer patients and their families at no cost to them. In one afternoon, she said the nonprofit gave out 404 pounds of produce that would have cost more than $1,030.

The foods are grown in the backyards of low-income senior citizens throughout Salt Lake City, as well as on trees that produce too much for the property owners' needs and are then turned over to the organization to spread among senior citizens in the area who don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Food is so important to how we feel and in building our communities," Shawn Peterson, Green Urban Lunch Box founder and executive director, said. "Food brings people together. We want it to be accessible."

Cancer, Peterson said, "is expensive."

"A lot of these patients don't have a lot of disposable income to spend on fresh produce. This will help to feed them all week and they'll eat a lot better and feel better overall," he said.

Not to mention that with rigorous treatment schedules, some patients don't have time to garden or shop for produce, let alone cook it, Peterson said.

Christin Freeman, 50, was diagnosed with breast cancer a month ago. She hasn't yet decided on a treatment plan, but said she is leaning toward mastectomy and some other lifestyle changes to ensure it doesn't return.

"I know I need to eat better," the full-time working mom of two grown sons said on Thursday. She was grateful for the opportunity to try a few new vegetables without having to pay for them and said the generosity of the program comes at a good time.

"I think about all that is involved in taking care of this cancer and the risks involved, and it's overwhelming," Freeman, of Holladay, said.

Regardless of the time and the costs and the pain, or whatever comes, she said she will get rid of the cancer.

"I want it gone," she said, still reeling from the shock of the diagnosis. "I was looking in the mirror and thinking, 'I'm the face of cancer. This is it. It hits everyone. It's everywhere.'"

She gathered a couple light green tomatillos and some freshly cut basil in her paper bag and planned to make them into something tasty, hoping to entice her sons to also be more healthy and make better choices when it comes to food.

Freeman wants to be around for when they have their own families.

"I'm not ready to go yet," she said.

Dietitians with Intermountain Cancer Center spend time with patients to develop a healthy eating plan and prepare their bodies to fight the disease as well as the infections that could come with a weakened immune system. Soulier said patients are encouraged to eat enough calories, but to make them healthy.

The Green Urban Lunch Box grows everything without pesticides and fertilizer. Thousands of volunteers help to cultivate and harvest the produce, farming a quarter-acre of land every day. And the property owners, Peterson said, are happy to see the fruits and vegetables go to good use.

The organization gives out more than 80,000 pounds of food each year.

"Good nutrition through a variety of produce supports every dimension of their health," Soulier said. "We want them to fight their cancer, but at Intermountain, our mission is to help people live the healthiest life possible, and health is not always absence of disease."

"Everyone can benefit from making healthier food decisions," she said.