This was a crazy week! I left for Chicago on Monday morning and got there in the early afternoon. My friend couldn’t pick me up from the airport until 5 pm, so I spent the afternoon at the airport catching up on some work. Time flew by and it was 5 pm before I knew it! On Tuesday, I spent the day at the Rehab Institute of Chicago, (R.I.C.) the premier physical rehabilitation center in the United States. I shadowed an old friend of mine from the APTA Student Assembly. He treated a few stroke patients while I was there.
As a newbie physical therapist in 2004, I was debating working in an outpatient orthopedics setting vs working rehab in a hospital setting. I ultimately decided to work in post operation acute care because it would expose me to numerous diagnoses and was a good place to gain experience in a multidisciplinary continuum of care. It was a decision I have not regretted. Going back to the R.I.C. was the first time I was on a hospital floor since I was a patient. Some people get emotional returning to the hospital, but I honestly felt like I was going back to “work” in a place familiar as both a physical therapist and as a patient. At lunch, I did an inservice for the staff about my personal experiences on both sides of the gait training belt. I resumed my day at the hospital as an observer after lunch. Before the day ended, I caught up with one of my former hospital co-workers from San Diego who relocated to Chicago. Jonny Imerman picked me up from the hospital, and we met up with some other survivors from the Chicago area for a Happy Hour. Jonny gave me a short tour of the downtown area to kill time before the happy hour at 6pm. Chicago offers the Midwestern lifestyle/values hard to find on the west coast… I miss the laid back MidWestern lifestyle and values! Too bad it is freezing there… My buddy picked me up after the happy hour and I got a taste of Chicago family life with his wife and kid.
The next morning my buddy dropped me off at the Marriott in downtown for a pre-conference course taught by my colleagues at the University of Michigan – Flint: Comprehensive Management of Balance Imairments and Falls in Adult Cancer Patients. The whole reason I was in Chicago was for the American Physical Therapy Association, Combined Sections Meeting. It is a conference for all the disciplines in physical therapy (orthopedics, neurology, pediatrics, etc) to congregate and exchange the latest findings/information. This annual conference was in San Diego a couple years ago and rekindled my interest in my old profession through the oncology section. Ironically, many of the current faculty at U of M-Flint are involved with oncology physical rehabilitation issues – my interest for obvious reasons! I am getting to know the Oncology section leaders and look forward to someday sharing my knowledge in a future CSM. Of course a trip to Chicago isn’t complete without a stop for Deep Dish Pizza and beer. After the session I had dinner with the U of M Flint staff and caught up on all the latest happenings in Flint.
I roomed with one of old professors at the conference. He was the cool newbie professor my final year of PT school. (Me and my buddy tried to grow mustaches in his honor the last week of physical therapy school. HAHAHA!) In grad school, we practiced what is known as the “colleaguial model” where students and faculty interacted as peers while maintaining the traditional student-teacher professional relationship. Having a beer and a meal with the current faculty really made me realize that I still can play a role in the physical therapy combined with “thrivership”. I got up early and tried to take the shuttle to the convention center. It was crazy maneuvering a conference for physical therapists as a person with physical impairments. The battery life on the mAss Kicker Mobile now plays a large role in determining what I can do. I definitely tried to stay low key, but I definitely felt like I stuck out! The first session I attended was: Exercise Guidelines for Patients with Cancer. It was kinda cool seeing my world in physical therapy merge with my world in tumor/cancer advocacy. It was right up my alley! I got to connect with many of the great minds in the physical therapy and oncology rehabilitation world.
On my second day of the conference I woke up early again to go to a session on pediatric oncology. It was my first exposure to a pediatric issues in physical therapy since grad school. When combining pediatrics with oncology issues a whole new world of ideas formed in my head! I will admit that I’m not too familiar with pediatrics in both physical therapy and advocacy. I’m more familiar with young adult and adult survivorship issues. However, I’m willing to learn about pediatric survivorship! I see the potential for collaboration in pediatric, young adult, adult, and geriatric areas specifically in brain tumor/ general cancer reform. Although there are chemical/hormonal differences in the biology of these subgroups, I think the the “drive to thrive” in all sub-groups is strong for patients and their loved ones. Once people recognize that young adult tumor/cancer is both biologically and emotionally unique from the pediatric and older adult demographics, the young adult survivor cohort has the unique opportunity to unite the pediatric and the older adult patient demographics in overall survivorship. I honestly believe that young adult survivors have the potential to become the strongest leaders in the war on ALL tumors/cancer. We can lead the change in the perception of survivorship and become the leaders in “thrivership”. People cannot ignore our voices!
Being in Chicago made me realize that personally, I have come a long way in my personal brain tumor journey, but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to promote tumor/cancer “thrivership”. I am physically tired, but my goals are refocused and my soul is recharged.