Cancer Rehab Helps Survivors Overcome the 'New Normal'


But after struggling for a year, she sat with Diane Stokes at a Rotary Club meeting and learned about Star Program Certification and cancer rehab. "Wow," said Spring. "I had no idea what it was."

Stokes arranged a meeting with her colleague Silver, who immediately diagnosed Spring with a frozen shoulder. And she said cancer rehab could help.

Spring started on the road to recovery in the Star program at South County Physical Therapy to strengthen her disabled arm.

"My shoulder is not frozen anymore," said Spring. "I still go to [physical therapy], but it's like night and day … I have use of my arm. I go out gardening and walk the dog. I am still careful, but I don't have to be as cautious and I have good range of motion."

Medical rehabilitation programs emerged after World War II when injured soldiers came home and needed help functioning again. Now rehab doctors treat those who have been in car accidents, had strokes, or have spinal cord injuries.

Silver sees cancer rehabilitation as just as vital to a survivors' emotional wellbeing.

Research shows that most head and neck cancer survivors stop driving after treatment because they cannot turn their heads well and see oncoming traffic.

"It's an incredible source of disability for them," she said. "They are not going out to work -- it's very restrictive."

Silver said they can be helped through injections and physical therapy to increase the range of motion in the neck.

"A lot of times patients have become very frustrated and depressed and the psychological, not the physical is treated," she said. "But the physical is so much a factor in their symptoms. Who would not be depressed if they could not drive?"

Star has also begun a new program in "prehabilitation," offering patients therapy before they begin cancer treatments so they are physically healthy and emotionally ready.

"While they are waiting for chemotherapy, we use the window of time to get them prepared for what they are going to undergo," she said. "Offering them prehab is like giving them an umbrella before the storm."

Silver said her own struggle made her realize how important it was to help others. She did not get a diagnosis for two years, after finding an irregularity while breastfeeding her youngest child. It took three work-ups to determine it was cancer.

"I had excellent oncology care, but had to rehabilitate myself," she said.

After toxic treatments, she was forced to quit work for a year but still keep up with raising her children, then 3, 7 and10. At her worst moment, she sat in the emergency room with her daughter, who had an allergy to eggs and had been exposed.

"I had just had another dose of chemo and I remember trying to stabilize her condition and being sick myself," said Silver. "I was sitting there thinking, 'I cannot believe I am so sick myself and my daughter is so sick, and we are just fighting to stay alive.'"

Had she been able to access the Star program, Silver said, "There would have been experts there to help me that I could trust. That would have been a huge weight off my shoulders."

Professionals might have offered help with her pain levels, overall strength, reducing her fatigue and giving her better range of motion in Silver's arm.

Despite her slow recovery, Silver said she feels "terrific" today and has raised her children well. Her son Alex, now 19, and daughter Emily, 16, have written about their family's struggle with cancer in a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book, "Hope and Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey."

"Hope and Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey."

"I am not the same as I was before cancer, but I have worked really hard on my health and have tried to heal as well as possible," she said. "I feel strong."

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