Cancer Survivorship Program Goes the Extra Mile

Program guides patients during and after treatment

Empathy for cancer patients and their families was Dr. Krishna Gunturu’s impetus for starting Lahey’s Survivorship Program, which is funded by the annual Lahey Cancer Institute 5K Walk & Run. Having lost her father to cancer when she was 15, she knows firsthand the emotional, psychological and financial effects a cancer diagnosis can have on patients and families. “That is why I want to help others,” she said.

For the past two years, experts in oncology, psychology, nutrition, physical therapy and other fields have assisted patients during and after their cancer treatments through the Survivorship Program. Patients meet with all of these specialists during one appointment on a Friday afternoon in order to evaluate the person as a whole — body and mind.

“We’re looking at issues of long-term side effects of treatment, providing psychosocial support, and realizing that survivorship, in many ways, is just as important as the active treatment phase,” said Paul Hesketh, MD, FASCO, director of the Lahey Cancer Institute.

Psychological care is crucial for cancer patients, according to Cary Meyer, PsyD, a behavioral oncologist at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. When he meets with patients at the Survivorship Clinic, he starts each session the same way: by asking, “How are you doing?” That simple question allows patients to open up and discuss their struggles in a safe space that they might not otherwise have. “The patients are relieved,” Dr. Meyer said. “They really enjoy coming to this program.”

“They made a huge difference”
Chemotherapy for breast cancer was causing Maryann pain throughout her body, but the North Shore mother thought she would just have to live with it. After all, chemo is known to cause fatigue, pain and other side effects. Nurse Navigator Kari Galuski, BSN, RN, ONN-CG, made sure she knew she could do something about it.

Maryann wasn’t sold at first. “It was another appointment,” she said. But once Kari explained the program and how it assesses cancer patients’ needs in several areas, Maryann agreed to go. And she was glad she did.

She discovered that physical therapy helped ease her pain. Advice from a nutritionist steered her to foods that wouldn’t cause swallowing or digestive difficulties during and after treatment.

“I’m really impressed with every single doctor and nurse I met there,” said Maryann, who will finish her chemotherapy in September. “They made a huge difference.”

Running for a Cause
During the past 14 years, the Lahey  Cancer Institute 5K Walk & Run has raised $3.2 million  to pay for new programs, like Survivorship, and to help with costs that insurance won’t cover. “We pay for transportation, help from a social worker, medications and physical therapy,” Dr. Gunturu explained.

Drs. Gunturu, Hesketh, and staff and patients from the Cancer Institute walk the 5K every year with their team, the Chemosabes. “For the survivors to work through all those obstacles and come through strong, believing in themselves and being empowered, that’s what the goal of this program is,” Dr. Gunturu said.