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New Ulm Medical Center

STAR program helps cancer survivors thrive again

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After discovering she had lung cancer in February 2012, doctors removed the upper lobe and one third of the middle lobe of Marlys Marks’ right lung. Doctors also removed four ribs and performed reconstructive surgery.

“When I came home from the hospital, I had very restricted use of my right arm,” said Marks, a New Ulm resident. “Although it’s been less than a year since my surgery, I’m nearly back to normal.”

She attributes her amazing recovery to her care at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® - Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis and the follow-up rehabilitation she received close to home at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute - New Ulm’s STAR (Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation) Program®.

Thanks to early detection and advancements in cancer treatments, many people like Marks are surviving cancer. However, survivors can also struggle with the physical and emotional aftermath of their surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments.

Oncology Rehab Partners, whose co-founder Julie Silver, MD, is a Harvard Medical School physiatrist and a cancer survivor, developed the STAR Program® to provide a model of cancer rehabilitation care based on evidence about what approaches work.

Enrolled before leaving hospital

The Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute was the first rehabilitation center in Minnesota to receive STAR program® certification. Now the program is offered to cancer patients at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute-New Ulm through Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute-New Ulm.

Marks had her first appointment for rehabilitation therapy scheduled even before she left the hospital. She had started her physical therapy at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute - New Ulm before she began chemotherapy. Once she began chemotherapy, she found it too draining to continue physical therapy as well. “It was too challenging for to me due to the side effects of chemotherapy that I was experiencing,” she said.

As soon as her 12 weeks of chemo were done, Marks returned to work with her physical therapist, Tammy L. Henle, PT. “I had told them I’d be back when I was done with chemo and that’s exactly what I did,” Marks said. Henle said some patients can continue their physical rehab while on active treatment but others cannot. “It just depends upon what their symptoms are,” she said. “I leave it up to them and always advise that they just do what they can do.”

Getting stronger

In September, Marks returned for hour-long PT sessions twice a week.

Henle showed Marks how to do exercises that were aimed at helping her regain strength in her right arm. “When you take out a couple of ribs, that changes the whole dynamics of your shoulder complex,” Henle said. “So you need to do exercises that help restore your range of motion and your strength.”

Many of the exercises involved exercise machines. Marks was also assigned exercises to do at home with and without the use of exercise bands. “The exercises got progressively harder and more complicated as I was able to do more,” she said.

Henle said some patients come three times a week but most come once or twice per week. As with all her patients, Henle said, “I pace them and give them enough rest in between. You can tell when they’ve hit their max.” The rehab plan is individualized to each patient’s needs, Henle said. STAR certified clinicians include not only physical therapists but also nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and care coordinators.

Compassionate staff

They help cancer survivors with a range of needs including pain and fatigue, muscle weakness and joint stiffness, decreased balance and coordination, difficulty with speech and swallowing, and difficulty with thinking and processing information. They also provide help with lymphedema, an accumulation of fluid in the tissue. Lymphedema is a common side effect of cancer treatments, Henle noted.

Marks was very pleased as they measured her progress and she showed she was regaining strength with each passing week.

Marks is grateful, too, for the compassion that the STAR staff showed her. “When you go through a surgery like the type I needed and that was followed by chemotherapy, you’re kind of at loose ends. You don’t know where to start on the road to recovery. It’s nice to have someone there to guide you. At STAR, they know what needs to be worked on. Their compassion and expertise is just fantastic.”

Source: New Ulm Medical Center - Health Edition
Reviewed by: Tammy Henle, PT
First Published: 02/25/2013
Last Reviewed: 02/25/2013