Cancer Survivorship Program Offers Healing and Hope

If all goes according to plan, 65-year-old Julie Bair could be participating in a 5K race later this year. For most people that’s impressive, but in Julie’s case, it’s beyond impressive.

Just two years ago, Julie was in intensive care, fighting for her life. She’d been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2018. A fist-sized mass sitting on her lung had grown around her superior vena cava, the large vein that brings deoxygenated blood back to the heart.

When multiple chemotherapy regimens failed, her ProMedica doctors recommended a stem cell transplant. So, she traveled to Ohio State University’s Arthur James Cancer Hospital, one of the select facilities to offer the treatment. The day after her transplant, Julie was found unresponsive and had to be put on a ventilator. It was touch and go for some time, but she survived. After that experience, Julie became so weak, that she was unable to walk.

“I literally felt like I was looking at the gates of hell,” she says. But after six weeks in the hospital, months of additional chemotherapy, radiation, dialysis and finally, immunotherapy, doctors declared her cancer in remission in March 2021.

Julie is a survivor. And now, as a participant in ProMedica’s Couch to 5K Program, a service of the health system’s Cancer Survivorship Program, we may soon be calling her a 5K winner as well, regardless of her finishing position.

Meeting Patient Needs

It’s for people like Julie that the Cancer Survivorship Program exists.

“The goal of the program is to help someone who’s been given a cancer diagnosis live as fully as possible, and have the best quality of life as possible,” says Lisa Hartkopf Smith, APRN.CNS, MS, AOCN, CHPN, an advanced practice oncology nurse, who coordinates the ProMedica Cancer Institute Survivorship Program.

Everyone’s cancer is unique. But in almost all cases, the disease is life changing. People may have physical challenges related to their cancer or its treatment, and many experience emotional challenges as well.

Anxiety about cancer returning is their top concern, Hartkopf Smith says. But worries about getting new cancers care common, too. And it’s not unusual for people to feel guilty that they’ve survived cancer, when others may have died.

The program, which is typically covered by insurance, meets patients where they’re at, offering personalized guidance and services that help them return to day-to-day living. Self-referrals and provider referrals are welcome.

Specialized Care

Anyone who’s completed active cancer treatment is eligible. However, the Couch to 5K Program, which is an eight-week class designed to improve patients’ fitness levels, is open to people at any stage of their cancer journey. And patients aren’t required to have received treatment at ProMedica to take part in any Survivorship Program services.

To start, participants meet with an advanced practice oncology nurse, who will review their medical history. Together, they then develop a plan for monitoring for possible recurrence and to watch for new cancers. They also discuss — and if necessary, make referrals for —ProMedica services that can help them manage the physical, emotional and social effects of cancer and improve their overall health.

Some patients opt for a one-time visit. But many return indefinitely for ongoing follow-up care. In all cases, our program staff works closely with the patient’s oncologist.

As part of the initial visit, certified oncology dietitians and social workers also meet with the patient. With the advanced practice oncology nurse, that makes three dedicated cancer specialists offering patients assistance.

“That may seem like a common thing, but it’s not,” Hartkopf Smith says. “We’re unique in that regard.”

Something for Everyone

The program offers many free classes and webinars, as well as other exercise-related services. It also connects survivors to:

  • Cancer rehabilitation
  • Cardio-Oncology Clinic
  • Financial counseling
  • Genetic counseling
  • Healing care (aromatherapy, guided imagery, relaxation, meditation)
  • Lymphedema therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Women’s Cancer Sexual Health Program

There’s something or someone to help with any cancer-related need.

“There’s so much you can do to get back to normal or your new normal and to have the quality of life you want,” says Hartkopf Smith.

Hope is Strong Medicine

For patients like Julie, Survivorship Program services, such as Couch to 5K, have been invaluable.

“They help you let go of some of the anxiety — and potentially, despair— so you can regain your hope,” she says.

Her cancer isn’t completely gone, and she’s still on immunotherapy. But right now, her tumors aren’t growing. She’s thankful for the love and care of her husband, other family and friends, and the health care providers at ProMedica and OSU for getting her where she is today: Focused on living each day to the fullest (and maybe even running or walking that 5K).

“No one knows what the future may hold, so it’s living for today that matters,” she shares. “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

Celebrate Survivors

June is National Cancer Survivor Month, a time to celebrate Julie and all others who are living life to the fullest after a cancer diagnosis.

To learn more about ProMedica’s Cancer Survivorship Program, visit ProMedica’s website or call 419-824-1952.