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Breast Cancer Survivorship Program Helps Patients Take Sail

By Heather Maloney
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center staff

When 58-year-old Peggy Codding was diagnosed with breast cancer in November, she faced it head-on. She underwent a partial mastectomy followed by radiation. She took her medications, followed all of her doctors' advice, tolerated the intense course of radiation remarkably well and was given a great prognosis, all while never missing one of the classes she teaches at Boston's Berklee College of Music. But something wasn't right.

"I'm a pretty independent person," Codding says. "But I found that, once I was through all of my treatment, there was really something missing."

"I didn't feel that I was really suffering," she says. "But I was surprised that when I finished my radiation, I felt so fortunate to have my life saved, and yet I still felt that something wasn't quite right and that I wasn't 'well'."

Survivorship, and what women do after their initial breast cancer treatment, has not been widely discussed, until now. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has developed an innovative program called Take Sail, a breast cancer survivorship program that helps women navigate the many issues they face after completing their cancer treatment. The program covers a wide range of health issues including follow-up care, psychosocial issues, sexuality, spirituality, nutrition/exercise, and general wellness.

Katherine Johnston, MD

"More and more people are living through and beyond cancer," says Dr. Katherine Johnston, an internist and medical director of the Take Sail program at BIDMC. "We're finally realizing that we need to look at how these patients cope with treatment and with the long-term effects of treatment."

Dr. Johnston discovered there was a real need for these types of services in her role as an internist.

"I was seeing this with my primary care patients," she says. "Women didn't know what to do once their treatment was complete. They were telling me 'I don't feel good, the meds are affecting me, and I don't know how to deal with it."

To bridge the gap, Dr. Johnston worked with BIDMC oncologists to create a special clinic where patients can come in and meet with a doctor (often Dr. Johnston herself) to review their medical history, discuss the long-term effects of their treatments, and discuss their care plan for the future.

Patients are also encouraged to talk about any specific issues or symptoms they may be experiencing now that their treatment is complete.

"Basically, we talk about how to go on living your life after breast cancer," Dr. Johnston says. "I can help them find support groups, set them up with a social worker, or refer them to our wellness programs or exercise therapy."

Codding found the program to be exactly what she needed.

"Dr. Johnston has given me information and services, but she has also shown me incredible kindness," she says. "She really allowed me to connect my mind and my body in a way that is allowing me to become well again, and that's so important."

With four million breast cancer survivors in the United States today, Dr. Johnston hopes the program will help fill an ever-increasing need.

"There are so many women scared to talk about it," she says. "They don't want to bother their oncologists with something that they think is minor. They feel like everything else is small compared to cancer."

Learn more: Take Sail Survivorship Program »

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2012

Contact Information

BreastCare Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Shapiro Clinical Center, 5th floor 
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Phone: 617-667-2900
Fax: 617-667-9711