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Survivorship courses to help cancer survivors incorporate ‘Back in the Swing’ lifestyle

Among other things, Barbara Unell spoke about the ‘Back in the Swing Cookbook’ at The Duke Cancer Center Survivorship Center in Durham, N.C., last fall.

“This is a plan for wellness versus illness.”

That’s a simple statement that means the world to Barbara Unell, founder of Back in the Swing USA®, a grassroots, national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving and protecting well-being after breast cancer by supporting education for consumers and healthcare providers; personalized, comprehensive, survivorship clinical healthcare; and academic medical research. Making sure wellness programs are readily available for cancer survivors has been her goal, really her avocation, since she completed her treatment for breast cancer in 1999.

She along with Back in the Swing, wanted survivorship care to become the expectation, not the exception, after a cancer diagnosis. So after 15 years of groundbreaking philanthropic support of academic medical research and cutting-edge, personalized, comprehensive clinical breast cancer survivorship healthcare, Back in the Swing and The University of Kansas Cancer Center are premiering courses on comprehensive, personalized, multi-disciplinary breast cancer survivorship care. 

Two separate but similar courses have been designed, one for survivors and other for healthcare professionals. The inaugural class for survivors will be held on Saturday morning, Sept. 27. The first class ever for healthcare professionals on the topic will take place on Saturday morning, Oct. 18. 

The courses will be held at the Wysong Family Culinary Theatre of the Hospitality and Culinary Academy on the Johnson County Community College (JCCC) campus, and will be sponsored by the JCCC’s “Friends With Taste” and The University of Kansas Cancer Center. Registration is open now; to register visit www.backintheswing.org, click on the participate tab at the top of the page and then click on the New Cancer Survivorship Courses at JCCC link. Or contact JCCC directly. There is a registration fee for both courses.

Barbara Unell is beyond excited about this new endeavor, as is her husband, who has worked by her side at Back in the Swing since the very beginning. Bob said the creation of these classes is significant for a variety of reasons, not the least being that beginning in January 2015, the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC) will require that a survivorship care plan and survivorship support be among the standards of care for hospitals to receive national accreditation. 

“We are out of our minds excited about that,” said Bob Unell, referring to the fact that creating survivorship plans has always been one of Back in the Swing’s top priorities and the organization has worked hard along with others to get the CoC to establish this requirement.

As survivorship care plans are delivered to survivors by healthcare providers, Back in the Swing is dedicated to helping breast cancer survivors actualize those care plans, to help survivors protect and improve their health 365 days a year. These Survivorship Courses represent an important, experiential next step for Back in the Swing, as they translate their educational mission into practical everyday life.

Barbara Unell explained survivorship care is something “Back in the Swing has championed from the beginning.” She’s thrilled Back and the Swing has played a big part in creating these classes, the first time courses like this will be offered anywhere in the country. Back in the Swing and the KU Cancer Center plan to “export it to other places around the country after it is launched here in the fall.”

Unell said the courses for survivors and healthcare professionals will cover five areas:

• Survivor-specific medical care

• Nutrition

• Movement and exercise

• Positive emotions

• Relaxation/mindfulness

All five areas are covered in “The Back in the Swing Cookbook: Recipes for Living and Eating Well Every Day after Breast Cancer.” The cookbook, as well as its “Companion Guide,” serve as the textbooks for the courses. The award-winning book published in August 2012 is already being used by top notch cancer centers across the country including Duke Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Yale Cancer Center and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 

Each participant will receive a copy of the book and samples from the cookbook will be served at each course session.

Unell said these five areas are covered in the class because “normally there is very little time in the course of a person’s appointment at his or her oncologist or physician to receive all the information that they need about the latest research in these five areas in terms of improving and protecting his or her health after a diagnosis of breast cancer.”

One of the reasons the courses were developed, Unell said, is to help healthcare providers figure out how to teach survivors put a survivorship plan into action in daily life.

“There’s research that’s been done in each of those five areas, much of which Back in the Swing has funded over the past 15 years, and we want that information to be in the hands of both the provider and the survivor. That’s our mission at Back in the Swing and we are thrilled to be able to have this opportunity to communicate that in these courses for the first time,” she said.

The Back in the Swing founder emphasized that participants, for the first time ever, will have the rare chance to learn, first-hand, about the exciting collaborative research findings in breast cancer prevention and survivorship at the KU Cancer Center’s Breast Cancer Survivorship Center, the first multi-disciplinary, personalized clinical breast cancer survivorship center in the country, supported by Back in the Swing since the Center’s launch in 2006. 

The faculty includes nationally recognized medical researchers and practitioners in nutrition, exercise physiology, primary care, integrative therapies, clinical care and genetics at the Breast Cancer Survivorship Center, as well as the general community. Instructors include: Judith Fertig; Jennifer Klemp, PhD, MPH; Jane Murray, MD; Christie Befort, PhD; Heidi Scarsella, RD, CSO, LDN; Danielle Christifano, MS; Carol LaRue, OT, and Barbara Unell.

“This half-day course gives people a time to meet the experts, to ask questions and to understand how these five things fit together,” Unell said.

“This is part of our vision. We don’t eat all the time, we don’t exercise all the time … we do all of that within the course of a day and this shows how to weave all that together so that each day you can do the best thing you can do for yourself, your body, mind and spirit.”

The topic is the same for healthcare providers, but the perspective will be a little different, Unell said.

“Both the patient and the provider deserve the same information,” she continued.

Healthcare professionals completing the class will receive a certificate of completion from Johnson County Community College and the appropriate continuing education credit hours.