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Published: Monday, 7/23/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

ProMedica program helps cancer survivors find their new normal


Bennie Smith set aside many activities, including fishing and crafting wooden toys for his grandchildren, after he was diagnosed with colon cancer several years ago.

But when the 71-year-old Sylvania Township man joined the Bridge to Fitness for Cancer Survivors program six months ago, that began to change.

Mr. Smith started doing yoga and cardiovascular workouts every week as part of the ProMedica Cancer Institute's Survivor Center exercise program. Eventually he got into the exercise routine and back to other activities, he said

"I wasn't too sure about doing it, but they talked me into it," said Mr. Smith, a retired Toledo police officer who also started exercising elsewhere.

"I think it's helped me physically. I have more energy and want to do more things."

More people like Mr. Smith are surviving cancer because of treatment advances, as well as being diagnosed and treated much earlier. ProMedica's Survivor Center helps patients after those treatments as they struggle to adjust to a "new normal," and it addresses needs of cancer survivors, said Jill Johnson, certified nurse practitioner.

"Cancer is a life-changing experience," Ms. Johnson said. "Often patients deal with anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. All of these symptoms are similar to post-traumatic stress."

Each cancer survivor's journey is different, but fatigue, depression, and fear of reoccurrence are common side effects, Ms. Johnson said. Some survivors might have pain, tingling, or other long-term health effects from treatments, and sometimes they might not become apparent for many years, she said.

Survivors also might face a significant risk of either the cancer coming back or a different type of cancer, Ms. Johnson said.

For those reasons, it is important for patients to have an additional support team available to address questions or concerns, she said.

"The journey does not end after treatment. It merely changes direction," Ms. Johnson said. "We are the only facility in the area that provides a comprehensive approach to help you take that next step."

At the Survivor Center, each person receives a comprehensive and individualized care plan that includes all of the necessary future cancer screenings and additional testing.

Besides the Bridge to Fitness for Cancer Survivors exercise program, which also offers a sensory-based movement practice called Nia, the center offers patients dietary education, social work, and a quarterly Cancer Survivor Education Series. Topics selected by survivors are covered in that educational series.

Mr. Smith, who had chemotherapy and surgery after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005, said he attended an educational seminar on sleeplessness. He hopes to attend other talks of interest, he said.

Initially, Mr. Smith had trouble exercising, and his wife, Nancy Smith, was concerned he was having heart troubles. Tests showed he was fine, though, so he kept at it, he said.

"The more I went, the easier it got," said Mr. Smith, who is fixing up a boat and planning to soon build an entertainment center he has been promising his wife for years.

For more information about the ProMedica Cancer Institute's Survivor Center, call 419-824-1952.

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