Cancer rehab program at Kent aims for patients to feel like themselves again


Kent Hospital is the first in the state to implement a new cancer patient rehabilitation program. Called the STAR Program (Survivorship, Training and Rehabilitation), the program aims to help cancer patients and survivors overcome the adverse affects of cancer treatments.

The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation made a $7,500 donation to Kent and four other area hospitals, which allowed the staff to undergo training for the program. A group of 25 doctors received their STAR certification from Oncology Rehab Partners, a Massachusetts-based company that developed the program in conjunction with Julie Silver, M.D.

“By becoming STAR Program Certified, Kent Hospital has made survivorship a priority,” said Silver, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a cancer survivor.

Cancer patients and survivors can now receive many types of physical and emotional rehabilitation through the STAR Program.

Patients can receive counseling, speech or occupational therapy, and treatment for things like lymphedema, neuropathy, fatigue and loss of endurance.

“Patients have stated that they never feel back to their normal selves, and they’re told to ‘get used to the new you,’” said Kim McDonough, nurse manager for the Breast Center at Kent. “But there is no need for that.”

A benefit of the STAR Program is that patients can begin their rehabilitation before they finish their treatment.

“It’s an exciting part of the program we didn’t have before,” said Joanne Carlson, nurse manager of the Infusion Unit at Kent. “It makes it a much shorter transition period back into normal life.”

Dr. Candace Dyer, physician director of the Breast Health Center, said the STAR Program encourages doctors to refer their cancer patients to rehabilitation programs, a practice that wasn’t common in the past.

“We’ve ignored the rehab aspect of cancer patients in the past,” said Dyer. “There’s not one particular rehabilitation for cancer patients; they’re all different.”

John Carbon, D.O., a physiatrist at Kent, said people usually receive rehab for things like cardiovascular problems, but not often for cancer.

“Cancer is a tough diagnosis that adversely affects people’s overall well-being,” said Carbon. “People feel labeled. It’s a scary thing.”

The STAR program is geared to treat the many faces of cancer and the resulting complications and side effects of cancer treatment. Occupational therapists will be available to address daily activities like grooming, bathing and dressing, as well as energy conservation, memory and sight. Physical therapy will tackle pain management and range of motion.

Dyer said a major goal of the program is to “enhance survivorship.” Carbon said it’s a way for people to regain normalcy in their lives.

“When people come out [of treatment], what’s their biggest fear? They don’t want [the cancer] to come back. They want to be normal,” said Carbon. “We try to make the people better than before.”

He said the program will “fill the void” left by the diagnosis and the treatment.

The program has not yet enrolled any patients but will begin to do so soon. Patients may be referred by their physician, or can contact Kent directly at 736-3737. Most of the services offered through the STAR Program are covered by medical insurance.

“We hope this is going to be good,” said Dyer.


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