Program addresses needs of cancer-care patients

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Team effort: Vik Pancholi, an Ingalls occupational therapist, says the rehab plan for cancer patients pulls in medical specialists from different disciplines who work to help optimize daily functioning so that the patient can enjoy a better quality of life. | Supplied photo

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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 — and well-being.

But a new cancer survivorship program at Ingalls 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 debilitating side effects and symptoms,” explains Ingalls cancer nurse navigator Karen Masino, MSN, CNP, ACNP-BC, AOCNP, RN, RD, LDN.

Following the completion of program certification in May, a multidisciplinary team of physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists, nurses, dietitians and mental health professionals will work together to help patients increase strength and energy, alleviate pain, improve appetite and enhance quality of life.

“The past approach in cancer care was to tackle each health issue as it came up,” Masino added. “But today we know that the evaluation of a patient needs to look at everything from diagnosis through treatment to post-cancer care. Patients may not realize that there is a lot we can do to help with things like pain, sleep difficulty, diet, endurance and loss of strength. These don’t have to be accepted conditions as the result of cancer treatment.”

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

“The rehabilitation plan pulls in medical specialists from different disciplines who work to help optimize daily functioning so that the patient can enjoy a better quality of life,” adds Vik Pancholi, OT, Ingalls therapy manager.

In all, 23 Ingalls cancer caregivers will be certified by early May, making Ingalls the first in the region to have its entire cancer care program STAR-certified.

Addressing unique needs

STAR Program Certification was created by Julie Silver, M.D., 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.”

The STAR program 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,” Masino added.

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 from other traditional rehabilitation patients, which requires a different skill set to most effectively care for them,” Pancholi added. “Rather than tackle each health issue as it arises, we address the full spectrum of post-cancer care.”

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.

The STAR program is being utilized at some of the best cancer centers in the country, including Johns Hopkins, as well as community hospitals like Ingalls. Most survivorship services integrated in the STAR program are reimbursable by health insurance providers.

For more information about Ingalls cancer survivorship services, call 708.915.STAR (7827).

Provided by Ingalls Health System