STAR Team Provides Cancer Patients with Holistic Care



When Mary Luethmers was diagnosed with breast cancer, rehabilitation wasn’t one of the words she associated with treatment. Now she knows treatment saved her life, but rehabilitation has made living enjoyable again. STAR (Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation) enhances Sanford Bemidji’s multidisciplinary team approach to cancer care by focusing on cancer survivors’ quality of life, helping them with pain management and improving strength, energy and function.

“The rehab program is magnificent and I received great care everywhere,” Luethmers said. “My care was such a team effort, with everyone who worked with me communicating with each other and with me. No matter who I saw, they knew what was happening with me. Having chemotherapy was kind of a nightmare. But I’m grateful for it because it’s what saved my life.”

Cancer treatments may cause a range of adverse side effects in patients. Such was the case for Luethmers, who had a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. During the course of treatment, she was hospitalized three times and placed in isolation during one of those hospitalizations.

Several times, she developed painful infections that required secondary treatment. A hip inflammation caused chronic pain and fluid buildup in her feet and legs, making walking difficult. She became so weak and fatigued that she was unable to care for herself.

Radiation Oncologist Dr. John Bollinger referred her to STAR. This innovative nationally-recognized program helps minimize patients’ side effects through coordinated development of a rehab plan specific to a patient’s needs. STAR staff includes physicians, nurses, radiation therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, registered dietitians, social workers and exercise specialists. Staff receives additional training and must become STAR certified, ensuring that the overall continuum of care is maintained.

Medical Oncologist Dr. Jayan Nair explained things and listened to Luethmers’ concerns. Physical Therapist Jeff Breyen developed an exercise plan to help her strengthen the weak hip and rebuild stamina. Nurses and physical and occupational therapists visited Luethmers regularly at her home to assist her with mobility and lifestyle adjustments. A dietitian offered nutritional support when Luethmers had no appetite.

“You don’t realize how important holistic care and support is, not just physically but mentally too,” Luethmers said. “I retired from teaching three years ago, but my husband still works part-time and many of my friends too. The winter was cold and stormy and I felt isolated. I so looked forward to the nurses and therapists who worked with me.”

Luethmers is eager to point out that the full spectrum of her care at Sanford Bemidji was exceptional.

Generous donors to the Sanford Bemidji Cancer Center through the Sanford Health Foundation of Northern Minnesota help provide cutting-edge diagnostics, equipment, treatment and programs like STAR so patients like Luethmers can beat cancer.

To learn more about the Sanford Bemidji Cancer Center or to make a gift, visit foundation.sanfordhealth.org or call (218) 333-5505.

Posted Date: May 2014

STAR Team Provides Cancer Patients with Holistic Care

When Mary Luethmers was diagnosed with breast cancer, rehabilitation wasn’t one of the words she associated with treatment. Now she knows the STAR program made living enjoyable again.