Easing Post-Radiation Effects With Physical Therapy

“You have cancer.” These simple, yet painful words weren’t what Adrian, Michigan resident Cheri Constable had in mind when she walked into the doctor’s office in March 2013.

Constable was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when the doctors located a softball size mass in her left ovary and fallopian tube. After learning about her diagnosis, Constable underwent a complete hysterectomy followed with six months of chemotherapy.

“I was initially shocked when the doctors said, ‘you have cancer.’ You never think you’d hear those words in your lifetime,” Constable said. “The one thing that got me through it was that the doctors said my cancer was contained. I kept that in the back of mind.”

The demands of chemotherapy left Constable with excruciating leg pain. She learned about the STAR Program while attending a ProMedica event, Celebrate Life Annual Survivor Celebration at the Hickman Cancer Center at ProMedica Bixby Hospital.

STAR Program: A Brief History

STAR stands for Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation, explained Karen Martin, MA, CCC, SLP, director of rehab and coordinator for the cancer rehab program. Martin said that the STAR program offers individualized rehabilitation care. ProMedica Cancer Institute and ProMedica Total Rehab introduced the STAR Program early 2013.

“Fatigue, mild cognitive impairment, swallowing difficulties, lymphedema, or swelling of the legs or arms, anxiety or depression, and pain are just some examples of the symptoms cancer survivors might experience,” Martin said. “STAR is a collaboration between many different disciplines and addresses all of these issues to help patients get back to their pre-cancer level of function.”

 

STAR was initially developed by Boston-based Julie Silver, a physical medication and rehabilitation doctor. A breast cancer survivor herself, Dr. Silver observed symptoms of fatigue and confusion after completing her initial cancer care. She quickly realized her rehab background could offer relief to patients integrating back into their lives. This led Dr. Silver to become a cofounder of Oncology Rehab Partners, the company that offers STAR to health care organizations and hospitals across the country This includes those within the ProMedica system.

“I would not have known what to do if it weren’t for the STAR Program. Doctors just give you prescription drugs and send you on your way home. They never mention you have an alternative thing to do,” Constable said. “The STAR Program changed my life.”

Adopting a Multidisciplinary Approach

Constable began her care with STAR in November 2013. She worked with a certified STAR clinician twice a week, alternating between Reiki, which is a Japanese practice that combines meditation, spirituality and healing touch, and cognitive speech therapy.

Reiki therapy allowed Constable to perform a series of exercises to improve her physical strength. It also reduced anxiety and stress. During one of her sessions, Constable’s clinician had her lie on a stability ball to break the excess amount of scar tissue which was built up in her body while undergoing cancer treatment.

Constable also completed multiple memorization games during cognitive speech therapy. One exercise consisted of the clinician reading three words such as ‘joy’, ‘fun’ and ‘friends’ in a particular order. Constable would have to repeat those words back to her clinician.

Even though Constable has completed therapy, she is sure to incorporate the exercises she learned while attending STAR into her daily life.

“I can actually walk for two miles and also ride my bike for two miles.” Constable said. “I couldn’t even walk to the mail box before.”

ProMedica has certified more than a 100 certified nurses, social workers, dietician and physical and occupational therapists as STAR clinicians in the last two years. If you or a family member is interested in talking part in the program, visit www.promedica.org/STAR.

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