Thriving After Treatment

By Sara Bondell - July 23, 2019

From day one of treatment, most cancer patients can’t wait for the day they will be finished. They have kicked things into survival mode, focusing on meeting specific physical and mental needs that will propel them through treatment.

But then that final day of treatment comes. It brings feelings of victory, happiness and relief, but also can come with a feeling of uncertainty: now what? 

“Cancer survivors are at risk for poor outcomes following active treatment,” said Dr. Smitha Pabbathi, director of Moffitt’s Survivorship Clinic. “We want to position our survivors to have the best quality of life possible. We want to give them strategies to manage physical and psychosocial changes so they can continue to thrive after completion of treatment.”

With a grant from the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation, the Survivorship Clinic teamed up with Nutrition and Rehab Services, Arts in Medicine, Integrative Medicine and Patient and Family Services to launch Survivors Overcoming and Achieving Resilience, or SOAR, in the fall of 2018. It is an eight-week interactive workshop for breast cancer survivors that teaches participants how to transition from active treatment and promote a healthy lifestyle through yoga, meditation, stress management, nutrition and exercise. The classes are paired with a weekly food demonstration with the goal of learning technique driven recipes that are delicious, simple and healthy.

“We like to engage the senses when discussing healthy eating. Participants get to see the ease of preparation and smell and taste new foods. Most importantly, it has to be delicious if we expect to change behaviors,” said Sonya Pflanzer, an advanced practice professional in the Survivorship Clinic. The survivors are also encouraged to keep a journal and share ways they’re implementing the new skills taught the week before.

“The workshop is designed to empower survivors. It’s catching them at a pivotal time when they need to know they are not alone in their life beyond cancer,” said Diane Riccardi, registered dietitian and SOAR program coordinator. “Our goal was to address their physical, emotional and practical concerns, but beyond that we really started to see the participants benefiting from social connectivity and bonding.”

The program also includes a two-hour grocery store tour where a nutritionist shows participants how to read food labels and make healthy decisions while shopping. At the end of the eight weeks, the survivors celebrate moving forward by meditating on their journey and crafting spirit wings to help them “soar”. This mindfulness-based expressive arts activity is facilitated by Catherine Thomas, artist in residence in the Arts in Medicine Program, and Marc MacDowell, a licensed clinical social worker from Patient and Family Services.

Between the fall 2018 and spring 2019 SOAR sessions, 25 breast cancer survivors have completed the program. If it can secure more funding, the Survivorship Clinic is hoping to offer a fall 2019 session. The ultimate goal is to open the workshop to all cancer survivors.

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