When Union Bridge resident Lisa Schwartzbeck completed her treatment after being diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in August 2013, she received support to improve her physical well-being through the Embrace program at the Center for Breast Health at Carroll Hospital.
"I think it's an absolutely tremendous program because you lose so much strength during your treatments and you definitely lose stamina," said Schwartzbeck, who is now free of cancer after receiving treatment.
The program, which began in April and runs through the end of March, offers recovery services to breast cancer patients in remission with a focus on wellness and nutrition, said Monica Clark-McGrew, nurse health navigator for the Embrace program at Carroll Hospital. Those who have finished treatment — surgery, chemotherapy or radiation — within the past two years are eligible to enroll, Clark-McGrew said.
"We can help the breast cancer survivor [both women and men] as long as their treatment has been in the state of Maryland — they do not have to be with Carroll Hospital," Clark-McGrew said, adding, "I think the ladies who have used services through it have just been very, very happy with it."
Patients who are eligible may enter one of two free programs or other activities offered through the Embrace program at Carroll Hospital Center which is supported by a $50,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The first, called Embrace to Win, has two components: an eight-week course where students learn about nutrition and calories. The program includes a fitness component where participants use the gym at Central Maryland Rehabilitation Services three times per week, and meet with a personal trainer once a week, Clark-McGrew said.
"Some of the medications they receive tend to make them gain weight; you're also not very active because you're very tired when you're getting treatment, so you're not expending as many calories," Clark-McGrew said.
The hospital has partnered with Central Maryland Rehabilitation Services, a physical therapy center located nearby on Washington Road in Westminster, where participants can exercise and take nutrition classes, Clark-McGrew said.
Schwartzbeck, who participated in the program, said while she always thought she was knowledgeable about nutrition, she learned quite a few new things through the course, such as how to better decipher food product labels to make healthy choices. She also learned new information about sugar intake and portion control, she said.
"Portion control was a real interesting one, because a lot of women gain 25 to 30 pounds after breast cancer treatment and a lot of that is being pushed into menopause from your treatment too, so this kind of puts the brakes on that," Schwartzbeck said.
The second program, called Staying Strong, is a six-week cancer fitness course which includes cardio activities, low-impact strength conditioning and stretching, Clark-McGrew said, which aims to help participants recoup their strength. Sessions are held once or twice a week at Central Maryland Rehabilitation Services, she said.
Before people can register for either program, they must have a fitness screening with a physical therapist at Central Maryland Rehabilitation Center, to evaluate whether they are physically fit and able to perform the exercises required, Clark-McGrew said.
Participants in the Embrace program can improve their relaxation and well-being through free massages, yoga classes and acupuncture, Clark-McGrew said.
Schwartzbeck said one of her favorite aspects of the program was the sense of camaraderie she gained by interacting with other women who are recovering from the disease.
"We shared a lot of our experiences and we commiserated where we had the same experiences, and it was really good to find some friends who had walked the same road," Schwartzbeck said.
Clark-McGrew said she matches up people who have undergone a similar experience with breast cancer treatment through a peer mentor program.
A weekend retreat will also be offered to Embrace program participants in March at the Retreat and Conference Center at Bon Secours in Marriottsville, Clark-McGrew said.
Carroll Hospital has received feedback that the program has helped patients with their sense of well-being, coping skills, reducing stress and their attitude toward recovery, she said.
"The services to continue their treatment are just as important as the actual medical treatment that they get," Clark-McGrew said. "Once you're labeled finished with your treatment, you kind of get left hanging and you don't know where to go; and the Embrace programs really fits that little niche to help transition treatment into continued survivorship."