FINDING A BETTER ‘NORMAL’ FOR CANCER SURVIVORS
On the night of the H.O.P.E. Life and Rehabilitation Center’s open house in November, the place glowed from within. A group of people had gathered to celebrate this new, specialized addition to Hilton Head Island’s health care options.
H.O.P.E. Life stands for “helping oncology patients enjoy life,” and the facility provides physical, nutritional, social and wellness services to any individual and family touched by cancer. Dennis Ittenbach, the physical therapist who opened the practice, said he’d been thinking about and planning the facility for the past 15 years.
The center, which is located on Main Street, doesn’t feel like a clinical facility — patient artwork and messages of hope adorn the walls, and there’s Hope is Here a lounge for family members to wait. The treatment rooms don’t have sterile white walls or fluorescent lighting. And there’s specialized equipment to help patients work on building strength, endurance, flexibility and stability.
The space where nutrition, exercise, and other classes will be held was overflowing with open house guests — including Ittenbach’s former patients and colleagues. Ittenbach, between hugs and handshakes, talked with enthusiasm about why he opened the facility and what he hopes to accomplish.
WE WANT THEM THRIVING BEYOND SURVIVING.
— Dennis Ittenbach
Inspired by his wife’s battle with cancer, Ittenbach designed the H.O.P.E. Life and Rehabilitation Center to help Lowcountry cancer patients manage the issues they face, like regaining strength and range of motion after surgery, fatigue prevention and pain management during chemo and radiation treatment, and restoring physical fitness and managing lymphedema after treatment. When someone survives a battle with cancer, all his or her friends and family members want to do is celebrate. But the disease and treatments, which affect every system in the body, can leave survivors feeling worse than ever — they’re often dealing with pain, swelling, fatigue, prosthetics, medical bills, and lifelong impairments. Nobody talks about this part of cancer, said Ittenbach, and for the most part, patients aren’t getting comprehensive care.
“Patients are expected to accept this as their new normal,” said Ittenbach, who has specialized in treating oncology and lymphedema patients for 15 years. He is a boardcertified lymphedema therapist and has lived on Hilton Head since 2004. Last year, he won Hilton Head Monthly’s Reader’s Choice Award for favorite physical therapist.
“With conservative techniques,” he said, “patients can have a higher quality life and relieve the pain.”
The H.O.P.E. Life center’s menu of services includes physical rehabilitation, like palliation, lymphedema management, and non-pharmacological pain management; fitness and massage; health promotion and helping people change their lifestyles for better health; cosmetic, wig, and prosthetic education; nutrition education; support groups for survivors, spouses, caregivers and children; education on prevention strategies for decreasing risk of recurrence and the long-term affects of cancer treatment; and community outreach. And Ittenbach doesn’t want money to be a barrier for care. For example, he said that compression garments to treat lymphedema can cost anywhere from $50 to more than $100; the center, however, provides these garments for patients at no cost.
“The team I have is committed to helping people touched by cancer,” he said. “We want them thriving beyond surviving.”
Cancer affects millions of people every year, and because of fantastic medical advances, more and more people beat it. But survival can also be lonely and difficult.
“Pain and chronic fatigue don’t have to be your normal after cancer,” Ittenbach said. The H.O.P.E. Life Center offers an alternative.