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To Your Health: Ingalls’ STAR program enhances life after cancer treatment

Karen Masino cancer nurse navigator for Ingalls Cancer Care  |  Supplied photo

Karen Masino, cancer nurse navigator for Ingalls Cancer Care | Supplied photo

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Updated: August 17, 2014 6:19AM



Thanks to better treatments, earlier detection and the loving care of family and friends, there are more than 13 million cancer survivors in the United States today.

One out of every six people over age 65 is a cancer survivor. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, 66 percent of adults diagnosed with cancer today can expect to be alive in five years.

Some survivors live with cancer as a chronic disease requiring periodic treatments over time. Others go into long-term remission, leading normal lives with few, if any, side effects.

Thankfully, as many as two-thirds of all cancer survivors report that cancer has not had significant long-term impact on their lives.

But the story doesn’t end there.

As many survivors discover, cancer recurrence is still a possibility several years after successful treatment. What’s more, newer, more powerful cancer therapies can leave survivors with health issues that require lifelong surveillance.

Even after the physical toll of cancer treatment has subsided, recovering from the social and emotional trauma remains a concern for many survivors.

Life after cancer treatment

While cancer treatment can be lifesaving, it’s also traumatic to the human body. Recovery is often accompanied by debilitating side effects from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Fatigue, memory loss, anxiety, depression, muscle weakness and trouble sleeping can interfere with a patient’s daily life.

But a cancer survivorship program at Ingalls Memorial Hospital is designed to help patients feel better, regain their strength and get the care they need when they need it. The Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation (STAR) program helps patients heal from cancer’s draining side effects and symptoms.

Through STAR, a multidisciplinary team of Ingalls physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists, nurses, dietitians and mental health professionals work together to help patients increase strength and energy, alleviate pain, improve appetite and enhance quality of life.

While the past approach in cancer care may have been to tackle each health issue as it came up, today we know that the evaluation of a patient needs to look at everything from diagnosis through treatment to post-cancer care.

Under the Ingalls STAR program, each patient’s needs are assessed and a personalized rehabilitation plan is developed.

The STAR program was created by Dr. Julie Silver, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a breast cancer survivor who could not accept that the changes to her body and her life caused by cancer and its treatment would be her “new normal.”

STAR addresses the unique needs that affect cancer survivors, including lymphedema, fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, joint stiffness, weakness, cognitive problems, balance problems and issues with communication, swallowing or eating.

By offering a coordinated plan of physical therapy, dietary consultations, exercise plans and more, we are able to help restore a patient’s strength and sense of well-being, and help them regain optimal functioning.

How it works

At Ingalls, caregivers take into consideration diet, sleep issues, existing pain, endurance, strength, exercise habits and emotional outlook, all of which have an important effect on physical healing.

Cancer patients have different needs than other traditional rehabilitation patients. Rather than tackle each health issue as it arises, we address the full spectrum of post-cancer care.

At Ingalls, STAR-certified staff have been trained to look for subtle clues in a patient’s condition as well. For example, someone who is complaining of fatigue may actually be depressed and benefit from counseling services.

Cancer survivors often say they look at things differently than they did before their diagnosis and treatment.

If you or someone you know is a recent cancer survivor, your new “normal” may include making changes in the way you eat, the things you do and your sources of support. Many cancer survivors also report that their new reality is one filled with unending questions about what to expect, their follow-up care, cancer recurrence and more.

I cannot emphasize it strongly enough: All cancer survivors should have follow-up care. Knowing what to expect after cancer treatment can help you and your family make plans, lifestyle changes and important decisions.

Life-changing situations such as cancer often give people the chance to grow, learn and appreciate what’s important to them. Many people with cancer describe their experience as a journey. And while cancer is not a journey they would have chosen for themselves, it sometimes presents the opportunity to look at things in a different way.

If you or someone you love is currently undergoing cancer treatment or is a cancer survivor, Ingalls Cancer Care’s STAR program can help.

For more information about Ingalls cancer survivorship services, call (708) 915-7827.



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