During June, nearly 17 million Americans who have successfully battled cancer – they’re called “survivors” – are being recognized and honored for their fight against one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
A cancer survivor is anyone who has been diagnosed with the disease and is currently in treatment or remission.
Erika Merrill, 48, from North Salt Lake, is one of those survivors.
It all started a year ago (Feb of 2020), with a trip to the emergency room where Merrill received her stomach cancer diagnoses of stage 4 adenocarcinoma of gastrointestinal origin, and an ambulance ride to Intermountain McKay-Dee Hospital.
She stayed for two nights and three days, meeting with a specialized Intermountain Healthcare cancer team – who developed a personalized treatment plan specific for her diagnosis.
Intermountain Cancer Center physicians and caregivers apply a wide variety of advanced methods, technology and therapies to reduce and remove cancer cells. Every Intermountain cancer care plan involves individualized treatments based on cancer type, disease status, and location of the cancer and other considerations.
After multiple diagnostic exams including CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, Merrill was found to have innumerable lung tumors, enlarged lymph nodes in her abdomen and pelvis, bone lesions and 5 brain lesions.
Merrill’s cancer treatment plan included stereotactic radiosurgery to the brain lesions, chemotherapy, targeted radiation to painful pelvic disease, and cancer rehabilitation sessions.
“In coordinating complex care for cancer patients which often requires extensive diagnostic testing and multi-disciplinary input, physical therapy and rehabilitation services may be overlooked among the list of essential management needs,” said Jaden Evans, MD, radiation oncologist at Intermountain Healthcare. “But it is a growing area in medicine due to the increase in cancer survivorship, that we often recommend and prescribe to our oncology patients.”
Many cancer treatments can leave patients weak, fatigue, and in pain. Rehabilitation care can help restore and repair the body, said Dr. Evans.
Benefits of Oncology Rehab also include:
- Minimizing pain, swelling and inflammation
- Improve range of motion
- Improve strength
- Maximize mobility
- Gain and maintain independence
“This past year has been filled with so many ups and downs,” said Merrill. “Each day I would look for big or little miracles that kept me going. My rehab sessions definitely kept me on my game. I’m grateful Dr. Evans included them in my treatment plan.”
With advances in early screening and detection, and with improvements in treatment protocols, cancer patients are now living longer.
According to research from American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate of all cancer is 68 percent and continues to increase. This means that the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. will continue to increase, requiring more recovery strategies, such as oncology rehab services.
“Patients are often referred to rehab by one of their oncology providers,” said George Heron, MS,, Intermountain McKay-Dee Hospital’s cardiac fitness institute manager. “Our goal is to develop specialized treatments for that patient’s specific needs to get them back to their families and improve their quality of life.”
For more information about cancer treatment options, visit: https://intermountainhealthcare.org/medical-specialties/cancer-care