After cancer treatment, what next for survivors?

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Leslie Wilson, a cancer survivor at Camp Discovery.

Completing cancer treatment is a milestone for patients. But it's not the end of their ordeal, and for many, the need for support can be greater than ever once they've stopped their initial course of treatment.

People are living longer than ever after a diagnosis, and that makes paying attention to the quality of their lives so important.

That's why we teamed up with local organizations to bring Camp Discovery to the University of the Sciences and in Camden at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper Health.

We did it for women like Leslie Wilson, who has been enrolled in the camp for several years and is still undergoing hormone treatment for breast cancer. Leslie is a naturally positive woman who says while cancer can be difficult, it is important not to dwell on the negatives, but find the silver lining. At our camp, Leslie and the other women are able to come and forget their treatments for a few hours and instead smile, dance and laugh with other women, many of whom they keep as friends even after the camp is over.

The support they get is both emotional and physical -- many cancer patients need occupational and physical therapy after treatment to reclaim abilities that chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and other treatments have compromised.

 One of us (Colleen Maher) introduced Camp Discovery in New York state with an organization called Gilda’s Club of Westchester, named for the Saturday Night Life comedienne Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

The week of activities was such a life changer for the women, we knew we wanted to bring it to Philadelphia when Dr. Maher came here to teach occupational therapy at the University of the Sciences.

The activities the women complete during the camp – including dance, yoga, meditation, cooking and crafts – help them rediscover the activities they may have enjoyed before cancer, as well as to find new ways to have fun and express themselves. We see them to regain confidence in themselves and their skills.

About 40 women participated this summer over two weeks at the University of the Sciences and in Camden at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper Health.

 

The camps are free to the women who attend and are made possible through funding from University of the Sciences and small foundational grants. Our partner organizations, The Cancer Support community of Philadelphia, Gilda’s Club of the Delaware Valley and MD Anderson Cancer Center, all help with advertising and donations.

 

Student volunteers from both institutions make the event possible by helping to plan each day’s activities and work with the women to make their experience a memorable one. In return, the women teach these occupational therapy students the benefits of this hands-on work, helping them to become attentive and competent professionals. We hope once they graduate, they'll go on to create their own versions of Camp Discovery.

Dr. Maher is an assistant professor of occupation therapy at University of the Sciences. Dr. Mendonca is an assistant professor in rehabilitation sciences and occupational therapy at Temple University. Together they run Camp Discovery, a camp for survivors or women battling cancer.

 

 


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