Oncology Rehab Helps Patient Recover After Double Cancer Treatment

018-14-33When Walter Melcher learned he had Stage 4 throat cancer, he knew the prognosis wasn’t good. Just four years earlier, he had lost his first wife to a 13-year battle with breast cancer.

Six months later, while he was undergoing treatment, he learned that he also had thyroid cancer.

The double whammy of two cancers left him exhausted and made it difficult for him to swallow food. But Memorial Medical Center’s oncology rehab program, known as the STAR Program, has helped him get back on his feet.

Recently remarried, Walter, 58, was assured by his doctors last April that his chances of survival from throat cancer were good even though the cancer was “fairly severe.” His cancer also affected his tonsils and tongue.

Within a few weeks of his initial diagnosis, Walter, who has lived in Springfield all his life except for a three-year stint in the U.S. Army, had to have a feeding tube inserted into his stomach and a port put in place for his chemotherapy treatments.

A couple of weeks later, Walter began simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Walter said he was nauseated all the time and lost about 80 pounds. He was encouraged to eat and drink when he could without the use of the feeding tube, but it was difficult to keep his food down. The radiation treatment “burns your throat” when he would try to swallow so he eventually had to rely on the feeding tube. Still ahead for him was surgery to remove his thyroid followed by radioactive iodine treatment.

The STAR Program helped Walter recover following his double cancer treatments. The program’s cancer rehabilitation services help patients resume normal day-to-day activities. A team of specialty caregivers works together with each patient to develop a personalized rehabilitation plan to increase their strength and energy, alleviate any pain and improve their daily function and quality of life.

For Walter, that meant working with a feeding specialist to learn how to swallow again after the feeding tube was removed. He also received physical therapy to help him build up his strength after his lengthy inactivity. A dietitian helped him adjust his diet to avoid losing any more weight.

He also needed massage therapy to treat lymphedema in his neck. The swelling caused extra pressure that made it harder to swallow. Between therapy sessions, his neck was taped to keep the swelling at bay.

Walter said he was grateful that an entire team of healthcare professionals was looking out for him.

“Everybody is always looking to see if there’s something else that can be done,” he said. “I really appreciated that.”

Memorial’s STAR Program launched in early 2013. The successful program is also being offered at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Taylorville Memorial Hospital and the 18-county region served by Memorial Home Services. For more information, call 217-757-7370.