‘Good nutrition during treatment for cancer is extremely important for children’

The Irish woman in Glasgow helping children with cancer eat right

This Food Month Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in the area overseas. Rachel Mulcahy is originally from Kilnamanagh, Dublin, but now lives in Glasgow where she is the lead dietitian for paediatric oncology in greater Glasgow and Clyde

When did you leave Ireland?

I left Ireland in 2003 to study Nutrition and Dietetics at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. I spent a few years after graduation working in Tallaght Hospital, but returned to Scotland in 2009 . I started my current role in paediatric oncology in 2014. I had always wanted to work in this speciality having seen my younger sister lose so much weight when she was being treated for a brain tumour when she was four years of age.

What is the role of a dietitian in paediatric oncology?


It is an incredibly rewarding role. I support children and young adults with nutritional advice throughout their treatment. This can mean providing evidence-based advice on how to obtain the right amount of energy and nutrients from food and also providing advice on specialised diets and tube feeding. Good nutrition during treatment for cancer is extremely important for the patient and can help improve outcomes and quality of life. It is especially important for children and young adults for their growth and development. We have just introduced a fabulous deli cart for our inpatients, which is very popular as they can have a freshly-made filled roll, ciabatta or sandwich made at their request at lunchtime.

How have children on the wards been coping with cancer and coronavirus?

The patients and their families have coped amazingly during the coronavirus pandemic. Many patients had shielded for months and some families were separated if a parent or sibling had to continue to attend school or work. I have so much admiration for how positive they continue to be during this time.

What might a day involve?

A typical day for me involves initially seeing the patients on the ward round with the doctors and other multidisciplinary team members. I then spend time in a clinic or daycare setting reviewing our outpatients. I make time once a week to focus on service improvements . I recently presented an audit I conducted on national practice in Paediatric Oncology Centres examining tube feeding rates at the International Society of Paediatric Oncology Conference. I was delighted to have been awarded best research poster for education and practice at this event.

Have things changed in Glasgow?

Glasgow has changed a lot due to the pandemic. At present all pubs are closed and restaurants and cafes are open for takeaway only. I have a good circle of Irish friends here, but of course restrictions have meant we don’t seen each other very often. We try to meet one household in the park with our kids at weekends to ensure we are still keeping in touch whilst following the guidelines.

Is there anything you miss about Ireland at the moment?

The thing I miss most about Ireland is family. Being unable to jump on a plane to see my parents and siblings and for my son Fionn to see his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins is very difficult. We keep in touch via FaceTime or Whats App, but like most people we can’t wait for things to improve. My gran had 17 children so our extended family is huge, but still very close. I really miss the gatherings we have at Christmas and St Patrick’s Day. I am due our second child in March. The last time my mum came over to support me for a few weeks after birth and this time this probably won’t be possible. Things like that make it difficult being away from home.

It wouldn’t be Food Month without asking you about the food in Ireland...

Of course being away I also miss the food! My Scottish husband Latiff always comments how on much he loves Irish food too. It really is the best.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do.