With rounds of chemotherapy, radiation sessions and surgeries, the process of medically treating cancer can string on for months and even years.
Overcoming the disease and going into remission is a monumental challenge of its own.
But all too often, cancer patients emerge from their heavily regimented treatment with no idea how to live the rest of their lives as survivors.
“You can’t just tell someone to go live with cancer, because no one knows how to do that,” said Virginia Brooks, director of cancer services at Franciscan St. Francis Health. “We treat cancer well. We give people great radiation and chemotherapy, but we don’t treat the patient well.”
Franciscan St. Francis Health has teamed up with Cancer Support Community, an organization providing physical and emotional services to cancer patients and their families, to address this lack of post-cancer guidance. They have formed a pilot program called Moving Beyond, designed to give patients a road map for the rest of the lives.
Looking at exercise, nutrition, social interaction and the psychological and emotional strain that comes as a survivor, the program’s organizers hope to ensure that people are as successful living the rest of their lives as they have been beating cancer.
Franciscan St. Francis Health and Cancer Support Community have had a partnership in other areas for the past six years.
The Southside hospital is a satellite location for Cancer Support Community, where therapists can see patients two days a week. The organization offers clinics, support groups and individual counseling to help deal with the emotional toll that cancer can take, said Eric Richards, president and CEO of Cancer Support Community.
But as the medical profession has become more successful in treating cancer as a disease, more and more people are having to deal with the difficulties of dealing with live post-treatment.
“When patients are done with their treatment, we tend just say goodbye and wish them well,” Brooks said. “There’s an enormous gap. They don’t know how to not be a cancer patient.”
That relationship between Franciscan St. Francis and Cancer Support Community helped facilitate the creation of a project aimed solely at post-treatment patients.
“We’ve been able to learn together, and create the most effective programs for patients,” Richards said. “When they approached us over the summer, it was a no-brainer for us.”
Moving Beyond is a free 10-week program. People get together for about two hours each week to discuss the various issues they’re dealing with and learn about ways to overcome them.
Afterwards, each participant is given “homework.” They learn exercises they can do at home to become more physically fit. Each patient is given a bag with a yoga mat, exercise ball, fitness bands and other equipment to let them work-out on their own.
Nutritionists teach them how to eat healthy. Therapists help deal with the emotions that come with being a survivor, including the overwhelming fear of recurrence.
Counselors talk to them about being more social again, after months and maybe longer of holing up in their house or in the hospital.
“Your hair fell out, so you don’t want to go out in public. Maybe you’re out of shape, or the treatments made you bloat up, so you didn’t want to go out. You didn’t want everyone to ask how you are doing, so you cut off friendships,” Brooks said. “Then you’re done with treatment, and you realize you’re completely isolated.”
Though people are encouraged to do each class in order, organizers have designed it so patients can drop into it whenever they need to.
“A lot of programs don’t have the flexibility for the patient. Things come up over the course of 10 weeks,” Richards said.
The Moving Beyond program is in its pilot stage right now. Cancer Support Community have tapped 10 patients who they felt would benefit.
The program is designed for anyone, from those who can move around freely to people who need a wheelchair for mobility.
Results have been encouraging, Hays said. People seem to be excited about it, asking questions, offering suggestions and staying after the program ends for fellowship.
The initial test run of Moving Beyond ends in Thanksgiving. Organizers will take the data and information they learn and adjust the program for a wider release, which is expected to start in late February or early March in 2016.
It will be open to anyone who is recommended to the program. Cancer Support Community can also refer people to Moving Beyond, after speaking with a patient about the difficulties they’re having and their health history, said Lora Hays, director of clinical and hospital administration with Cancer Support Community.
“I can figure out where they’re having the most problems, and how we can best help them,” she said.
Those in charge hope that their work helps to fill a gaping need that exists in the cancer-survivor community.
“How exciting to be part of a program from the ground-up, and hopefully be something that can be replicated, that we can share outside of Indianapolis,” Richards said.
What: A support program aimed at helping cancer patients deal with the physical, social and emotional struggles that come after treatment is completed.
Who: A partnership between Franciscan St. Francis Health and Cancer Support Community.
When: The program will be open to patients starting in late February or early March 2016.
How to get involved: Contact Lora Hays at 257-1505 and