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Cancer survivors at Essentia Health experience new rehab program

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When a patient suffers a heart attack or has knee replacement surgery, it’s no surprise that rehabilitation is an important part of the recovery. Now, cancer survivors are also benefiting from physical therapy and other rehab services after their journey through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation is complete.

Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd has received certification from the STAR Program (Survivorship, Training and Rehabilitation), which ensures that Essentia provides the nation’s highest standards in oncology rehab care. The STAR program was developed by Oncology Rehab Partners, a Massachusetts-based organization focused on creating guidelines for optimal rehab care for cancer survivors.

Patients like 47-year-old Cindy Bourassa are finding great benefits in rehab services.

“Therapy isn’t just an extra, it’s literally a part of your recovery,” said the breast cancer survivor, who lives in Breezy Point.

Last December, Bourassa’s routine mammogram discovered a Stage III breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. She had a mastectomy in January, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. To help counter the effects of those treatments, Bourassa works with Pam Miller, an occupational therapist who cares for patients at Essentia Health St. Joseph’s-Rehabilitation Clinic.

“Pam is all in. You can tell she loves what she does just in how she cares for you,” said Bourassa. “Her hands are so healing to me. She takes her time and makes me feel important.”

Miller, a breast cancer survivor herself, said patients often deal with fatigue, reduced mobility from scarring and swelling from lymphedema.

“Some people take it for granted that this is the way they are going to be, that this is their ‘new normal,’ ” Miller said. “But often life can be better. We can help improve their quality of life.”

As she completes radiation therapy, Bourassa is adding physical therapy, speech therapy and a dietitian to her recovery plan. It’s all part of the STAR Program, which brings together a specially trained healthcare team to meet each survivor’s unique needs. The goal is to help survivors increase their strength and energy, reduce pain and get back to the tasks of daily life.

A doctor or healthcare provider can make a referral to STAR. For more information, call Essentia Health St. Joseph’s-Rehabilitation Clinic at 218-828-7375.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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