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Local rehab program improves cancer patients' 'quality of life'
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Will Hagan, a doctor of physical therapy, walks Wednesday with patient Mary Johnson during a session at The Longstreet Clinic Physical Therapy office in Gainesville. Johnson has been experiencing weakness since beginning chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer in November. The Longstreet Clinic and Pro Therapy offer specialized oncology rehabilitation designed to enhance the care of cancer patients and survivors. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times

Cancer patients are not only charged with fighting off the potentially deadly disease, but also maintaining some sense of normalcy throughout the process.

That normalcy, from walking to showering, sometimes can be threatened by treatment.

From fatigue to neuropathy, radiation, chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can strain a patient’s body and mind.

“For years there’s been a lot of interest in helping patients who are going through cancer treatment, from the time of diagnosis through their treatment and beyond, to address things like how it affects their activities of daily living, how it affects their ability to get back to kind of a normal lifestyle,” said Dr. Richard LoCicero, oncologist at the Longstreet Cancer Center.

Medical professionals may have found an answer.

Longstreet clinic has partnered with Pro Therapy to implement a program designed to address quality of life issues sometimes inherent with cancer treatment.

Survivorship Training and Rehab, a cancer-specific rehabilitation program developed by Oncology Rehab Partners in Massachusetts, gives cancer patients an individualized plan to increase strength and energy, alleviate pain and improve daily function and quality of life, from beginning of the treatment to afterward.

“The key term is quality of life,” said Dr. Destiny Herbert, clinical coordinator of clinical education at Pro Therapy’s Dawsonville location. “That’s what’s happening — you’re improving a (patient’s) quality of life. So whatever is important to them, you’re giving them a detailed structured, educated way to do it.”

The program was the first of its kind in the state and has been serving patients since January.

Milt Campbell, a gold medalist in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympic Games, has been in the program since January. Campbell was diagnosed with prostate cancer 12 years ago, and he and his wife Linda moved from New Jersey to Gainesville about 2« years ago. His cancer continued to progress after the move.

After undergoing chemotherapy treatment, Campbell started to feel the adverse side effects: neuropathy in his right leg. Slowly, the leg is beginning to regain strength and function.

“It’s not something that happens rapidly, as I’ve experienced most of my life,” said Campbell. “But there are improvements.”

Another aspect of the rehab is improving the mental health of the patients, who go through an “interview” prior to physical treatment.

Campbell knows how important that mental fortitude is. As an athlete, that has been the biggest reason for his success.

His mental toughness, he said, is still with him, but the fact the program works with others to improves theirs is critical.

“Being the athlete that I’ve been and realizing that 90 percent of what I’ve done has been mental, I’ve enjoyed the fact that they are there to do that,” Campbell said. “You’re kind of looking at it as they’re working with the whole body rather than just with the part that’s not functioning — it’s a bigger thing. I think that’s a good move.”

That confidence that comes with more mobility and freedom, coupled with the knowledge that the journey to recovery is not lonesome, gives the program its uniqueness.

“I think this program sort of validates that what they’re going through can be difficult, can have highs and lows, but there are people listening to them and validating what they’re going through,” LoCicero said.

“I think it allows them to sort of see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, there’s a path to feeling normal again.“When a patient feels more confident in their plan, they’re going to tend to be empowered to manage the side effects of treatment independently.”

Even Mary Johnson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last November, feels her few weeks in the program have been beneficial.

“Because I’m so weak right now, I’m on this walker, I can’t do too much walking,” said Johnson. “The doctors are very nice and make you feel real welcomed. I just feel better when I leave. I feel better when I leave than when I come in.”

 

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