Cancer Rehabilitation Program Helps Survivors Live Life Again

It was a little more than a year after Debbie Catalano was diagnosed with cancer. Her treatment was over and she had just started attending physical therapy classes when she made a visit to her local hair salon.

Walking through the shop she dropped a few items on the floor. She bent down to pick them up – something she’d done hundreds of times before her diagnosis – but when she tried to get back up, she couldn’t. She needed to ask for help.

“I used to be very active,” said the dancer, hiker and yoga participant. “But cancer takes a lot out of you. I was in the hospital for a month after I was diagnosed.”

Catalano completed her treatment and chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma in February 2012.

“I wasn’t prepared for what chemotherapy does to your body,” Catalano said. “It doesn’t stop when the chemo stops. There’s a whole other battle after that. I’ve recovered from cancer, but I’m still recovering from the chemotherapy.”

When her treatment ended, Catalano had some typical symptoms – muscle aches and fatigue. She also needed a cane to walk. That’s when she heard about the STAR (Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation) Program®.


“Cancer treatments often cause significant pain, fatigue and impairment for survivors,” said Vincent Buscemi, STAR Program co-coordinator and clinical director of Outpatient Rehabilitation at Winchester Hospital. “The STAR Program aims to educate patients on what to expect and how to cope and remain active during their cancer treatments. After treatment we help survivors get back to doing the things they could do before their diagnosis. ”

The STAR Program at Winchester Hospital focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to cancer rehabilitation services.

“When we began to discuss our approach to developing an appropriate care plan for patients, we realized we needed to include rehabilitation services,” said Sue Mizer, director of oncology services and STAR Program co-coordinator. “We needed to do more for patients to get them back to doing the things they love and improve their quality of life.”

More than a year after her treatment, Catalano has recently started driving again and when something fell on her kitchen floor recently, Catalano went down to pick it up. And this time she got up on her own.

“I look at where I was a year ago, before physical therapy. I was not able to walk without a cane, all my muscles hurt, I couldn’t even drive,” Catalano said. “Now driving is a huge accomplishment and I don’t need a cane anymore.”

What is the STAR Program?

Cancer survivors often experience pain and discomfort as a result of treatment. After their treatment is over, they also can face significant impairments that result in disability or a reduced quality of life. Winchester Hospital’s STAR Program strives to care for the whole patient by integrating a variety of services including physical therapy, social work, nutrition, acupuncture, massage, yoga and more.

The program’s trained clinicians understand the health problems that can result from cancer treatment, and they can target a cancer survivor’s weaknesses to help them get back to living their life.

Katherine Allen was an instrumental donor who provided initial funding for the program, and knows firsthand the benefits of physical therapy, “Over the years, physical therapy has vastly improved the quality of my life. It just made sense that cancer patients should also benefit from physical therapy and other therapies in the program. Supporting the STAR Program was the perfect way to honor my beloved mother and brother.”

More Than Physical Therapy

Maureen Mulcahy-Paone was diagnosed with oral cancer in March of 2013. With her daughter’s wedding six months away, the Winchester Hospital nurse didn’t know if she’d be able to attend.

Even as a nurse, Mulcahy-Paone could not be prepared for her cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

“Radiation was the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said the long-time nurse. “There were times when the pain was just unbearable.”

While Winchester Hospital patients can benefit from physical therapy after their treatment, the STAR Program also offers relief for those dealing with the pain from their treatment. Mulcahy-Paone used acupuncture, massage and Reiki to alleviate some of the pain.

“The acupuncture took away a significant amount of pain and also alleviated my anxiety and anticipation of the pain,” said Mulcahy- Paone. “I was always afraid of the treatment because I was afraid of the pain. The acupuncture took away that fear. It allowed me to have faith in the ability of my practitioners to help me.”

Mulcahy-Paone is now back to work and in September was able to take the trip up to Maine to see her daughter get married.