Couple exercising outdoors

For most cancer patients, recovery from the disease and the impact on their lives continues long after treatments end.

University of Maryland Shore Regional Health extends support for these survivors through its Cancer Recovery and Support (CARES) program.

Launched in 2011, the program focuses on everything from nutrition, physical activity and caregiver support to rehabilitation, palliative care and mental health.

Here's how the program works: CARES team members provide patients with an assessment tool on the last day of treatment to gauge areas of concern. Using the tool, patients can note practical, family, emotional, spiritual or physical problems they are experiencing. A few weeks later, Margot Spies, BSN, RN, oncology nurse navigator, meets with survivors for about an hour each to discuss how cancer has impacted their lives, their assessment results and plans for the future.

Spies also shares survivors' oncology treatment summaries, which detail the treatments they received and include recommendations for restoring health and recovering from lingering side effects.

"You don't come through these cancer therapies without being changed emotionally and physically in some manner," Spies says. "We discuss their experience through therapy and how they interpret what their own "new normal' may be.

Initially, some survivors are hesitant to discuss sensitive topics like incontinence and sexual health. But Spies assures them she is there to help with any concern.

"In addition to the physical changes, many times relationships, spirituality and finances have suffered," she says. "These are parts of people's private selves that require gaining their trust in order to address."

After confidential discussions, Spies connects survivors to resources for additional help.

One such resource is the YMCA of the Chesapeake. The Cancer Center at Shore Regional Health partners with the YMCA and Livestrong to offer a free, 12-week fitness program designed specifically for cancer survivors. Spies educates survivors on the importance of physical activity after cancer and then ensures their smooth transition into the fitness program.

"I try to impress upon people you have a bit of a restart here," Spies says. "Now, what are you going to make of it? How can we help you achieve your goals? Here are some tools we can provide for you, and our doors will remain open to you for the rest of your life."

Learn more about UM Shore Regional Health's CARES program.