Program focuses on recovery after cancer

When combatting cancer, the road to recovery doesn’t end with treatment.

For some, it’s just the beginning.

Camp Discovery is an occupational therapy program at the University of the Sciences that encourages 25 women in different stages of their cancer journeys to enjoy and live life “holistically.”

This year’s program, held July 27-31, marked the its fourth year at USciences, but it was the first year in which Temple officially got involved, with two Temple OT students volunteering along two USciences students and two OT students from South Korea’s Far East University.

Colleen Maher, a professor at USciences, and Rochelle Mendonca, now an assistant professor in the College of Public Health’s OT program, created Camp Discovery during their time teaching occupational therapy at the University of the Sciences.

“What we started noticing a lot was that there were a lot of women who were being diagnosed with cancer, completing their treatment and being sent back home—but once they get back home, they never really got back to life again and living again,” Mendonca said. “A lot of them were scared about going out and doing things.”

These activities include dancing, mild aerobics, craft-making and even spiritually-based activities like self-reflective poetry. Mendonca said Camp Discovery’s purpose is to be a place where these women can find friends who can relate to what they’re going through.

“It’s just showing them that they can go out there and do what they want to do and that they have the capacity to do it,” Mendonca said.

Mendonca said some cancer patients undergoing treatment are reluctant to do things they used to do before their diagnosis, like gardening or exercise. Often, that comes from fear these activities could aggravate their condition.

OT students are brought on, as their profession calls for designing and adapting activities to each different woman so that they can participate accordingly, like having a patient do a ballet class in a chair if they can’t stand for too long.

With other universities and their students showing interest in getting involved with Camp Discovery, the only obstacle for Mendonca and Maher is funding.

“We can’t get any big funding agencies interested because the primary focus is on curing cancer, it’s not really on dealing with people who have lived through it and what happens to them now,” Mendonca said.

Luke Adair, a second-year master’s student in Temple’s OT program, designed a ceramics class inspired by his study abroad time in South Korea, which had the women making ceramic stamps with their own symbols. The women bonded through the activities, but also by the fact that they are all survivors.

“They had a great sense of community that was very inspiring,” Adair said. “So part of that was an empowering kind of idea that they’re surviving together and they have communal support and strength through that.”

Albert Hong can be reached at albert.hong@temple.edu. 215.204.7416 or on Twitter @AtotheHONG.

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