Sometimes, the hardest part of a cancer battle isn't the disease itself – but what it does to the rest of your body.

More than half of all cancer patients suffer from cachexia, a wasting condition involving malnutrition and weight loss so severe that patients don't just lose fat, but muscle.

What's truly shocking is that severe malnutrition and weight loss are key factors in at least 20 percent of all cancer deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute.

It's a horrible and tragic number, because it simply shouldn't be that big. No one should be dying of malnutrition, no matter what disease they have.

Most doctors recognize the importance of proper nutrition, but they don't stress it enough to their patients. Some rarely mention it at all.

In reality, proper nutrition is as critical to a patient's recovery as any meds they may be taking or treatments they're undergoing – maybe even more so.

This is important for folks battling anything from a simple cold to a serious illness, but especially crucial for cancer patients who are often robbed of their ability to eat well by both their condition and its treatments.

Remember, the human body has remarkable capabilities when it comes to fighting disease and illness. We wouldn't have gotten this far if we didn't have that power.

But that power comes in large part from what we eat. If you're not eating well, the body's immune system falters and you will suffer. If you were healthy before, you're more likely to get sick. If you're already sick, you're more likely to run into some bumps on the road to recovery, or worse.

That often means more than simply eating whatever comes along in an effort to maintain body weight and avoid wasting. Patients fighting a disease like cancer need to eat meals rich in nutrients and healthy fats.

Hospitals are starting to recognize this and some are offering gourmet meals designed with nutrition in mind, rather than the standard hospital fare of a cold croissant and a bowl of gelatin.

The proper blend of nutrients won't cure a disease like cancer, but they will help your body build enough resistance to not only fight the cancer, but resist the side effects of the treatment.

If you are diagnosed with a condition like cancer, be sure that a good menu is part of your treatment plan. Develop this plan early, with your doctor, and stick with it.

After all, your life is on the line.