Vonda Jones performed a breast self-exam conscientiously once a month for years. When she felt something “odd” and it became bigger and harder over time, she called her doctor. Jones had a rare form of breast cancer called triple negative. She spent the summer of 2009 tethered to an IV for eight rounds of chemotherapy. Then she had a lumpectomy — followed by weeks of radiation therapy. But before radiation began, Jones met with Curtis Whitehair, MD, director of Cancer Rehabilitation at MedStar NRH.
Consultation with a MedStar NRH Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) specialist is becoming part of the routine evaluation for patients cared for at the MedStar Washington Cancer Institute, part of MedStar Washington Hospital Center. This is the leading edge in cancer care — a holistic approach that looks beyond effective treatment to helping foster quality of life during and after therapy. It is a relatively new subspecialty, and MedStar NRH is one of just a few hospitals in the region offering a comprehensive cancer rehabilitation service.
“We understand that with early intervention, we can really minimize these negative side effects,” says Dr. Whitehair. “That’s why at MedStar NRH, we have developed a model of care that integrates cancer rehabilitation into every patient’s treatment plan from the very onset of care. We’re looking at the big picture — to not simply save lives, but to help patients regain control over their lives, even during cancer treatment.”
PM&R physicians lead the MedStar NRH multidisciplinary cancer rehabilitation team, which includes physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists and psychologists. They work together to tailor therapeutic plans to meet patients’ unique needs.
Perhaps the most important part of therapy was Dr. Whitehair’s order to Jones to “get moving.” Jones took Dr. Whitehair’s advice to heart. Despite some peripheral neuropathy — nagging numbness and tingling in her toes and feet caused by chemotherapy — Jones was determined to set a walking goal for herself — and she reached her target by trekking a 5-mile walk loop that includes crossing the Wilson Bridge from National Harbor and back. “Without Dr. Whitehair and the therapists, I never would be able to do that. For me, rehab at MedStar NRH was the upside of going through treatment.”
To learn more about the MedStar NRH Cancer Rehabilitation Program or make an appointment for an evaluation, call 202.877.1152.