Program helps recovery after cancer treatments

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — Stacy Grewek knows what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer.

She was just 37 years old when she received the diagnosis that would lead to a double mastectomy. She recalls the time that followed.

“Everybody asks you, ‘How are you doing?’ ‘You look great.’ And I’d think to myself, ‘If they’re telling me I look great now, I must have really looked bad. . How bad did I really look then?” she wondered.

Jennifer Poulas, a nurse and cancer survivor, understands.

Poulas knows people tend to think that once a patient is finished with treatments that everything is better and that person will go right back to normal.

But that’s not quite the case.

“I think there’s a lot of recovery that needs to be done,” she said.

The Fremont Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1cT7Su1 ) that’s where a 12-week program called A Time to Heal can help. Established in 2004 in Nebraska, the holistic rehabilitation program is designed to help survivors regain their physical, emotional and spiritual health after cancer treatment. The program was founded by Kay Ryan, a registered nurse and breast cancer survivor, and Stephanie Koraleski, a psychologist. Koraleski’s mother is a breast cancer survivor.

Just as patients are routinely offered rehabilitation services after a heart attack or stroke, this program can provide helpful information about healing and coping skills, along with an opportunity to ask questions and share insights with other survivors.

The program will be offered at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays starting Feb. 17 on the third floor of Fremont Area Medical Center’s Health Park Plaza. The program was offered for the first time at FAMC last fall with sessions directed toward breast cancer survivors.

Sessions in February, however, will encompass survivors of any type of cancer. Patients should be through their initial treatment. Caregivers also are welcome, said Carol Hassman, a registered nurse.

Hassman, a radiation oncology nurse, and Poulas will facilitate the three-hour sessions, which include a light meal and gentle stretching exercises set to music. Sessions include a lesson and discussion time. Participants are encouraged to write out affirmations — positive thoughts about themselves — which they take home.

Session topics include nutrition, relationships, supplements, anxiety and depression, coping, exercise, spirituality, sexual function, relaxation, happiness and mental attitude. During the discussion time, participants can share their story.

The program, funded by the Fremont Area Medical Center Foundation, is provided free to the public. Those interested in the program sign up by calling the oncology radiation department at 402-727-3580. Participants register and are mailed a packet of information and also a questionnaire to fill out, which they will bring to the first session. Participants will get a free workbook the first night. Since the program is continually being part of a research study, participants will be asked to fill out assessment forms at different times during the program.

Grewek, who attended the fall program, benefited in various ways.

She learned “how not to dwell on the little things that were bothering me; how not to be so self-conscious about my body and the changes I’d been going through; how to laugh again; how to cry.”

Grewek has her own insights on her journey as a survivor.

“Cancer changes you,” Grewek said. “You look at things differently after you’re diagnosed. Relationships are more meaningful. . It’s the little things that you take for granted and I think this class helped me to appreciate those little things, but at the same time not dwell on the little things — like, for instance, my Christmas tree.

“I let them (the children) put it up,” she said. “I let them make decorations for it. It didn’t have to be the perfect Christmas tree. And you know what? It probably looks better than I could have done.”

She also made friends with people in the group.

“You have something in common,” she said. “They know what it feels like to get that diagnosis and go to all the doctor’s appointments and have people constantly asking you, ‘How are you doing?’ when after a year and a half or two years, sometimes, you do not want that question asked of you anymore. . You want to get past that. You don’t want to be ‘that lady that had breast cancer’ anymore.”

Hassman noted something else.

“When you’re going through the treatments — chemo, radiation, recovering from surgery — you don’t have time to process what’s happening to you, and then after you’ve finished those things, then it kind of hits you — what just happened,” she said.

Grewek noted how the class helped in this respect.

“I think the class helped you get past the initial shock — and that getting the diagnosis is not the end of the world,” she said. “There are other things. Life is still going to go on. Sometimes that is all you can think about — is the cancer. And I think each week you learn ‘I need to get back on track. I need to start eating better. I need to get back to exercising. I need to work on my relationships that didn’t go so well in the beginning.'”

Grewek enjoyed the camaraderie of the group and is grateful to Hassman and Poulas for co-facilitating the program.

Poulas said she and Hassman learned much from the participants.

“It was almost a healing thing for me as well,” Poulas said.

Participants are asked to sign up now to help with planning and to secure a space. They also are urged to make a commitment to come to get the full benefit of the program.

“It is very beneficial,” Hassman said.

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Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com

This AP Member Exchange was shared by the Fremont Tribune.

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