Imagine for a moment that your young child has been diagnosed with leukemia. You bring them to all of their appointments with their cancer care team, holding their hand the entire time. You watch as they slowly weaken from chemotherapy sessions, but encourage them with optimistic words. You pray anxiously for the day when the oncologist tells you that your child is in remission, and they can get back to their healthy, normal life.
Finally, that day comes. Your child is in remission, and they have been cleared for physical activity. You see their face light up with the idea of getting back on the soccer field with their friends. A week or two later, you stand saddened on the sideline as your child runs slowly and laboriously, taking several breaks to catch their breath. They watch as their friends race by them after the ball. As a parent, you feel angry, disheartened, and helpless.
For the families of children with cancer and other blood disorders, this story is one that plays out all too often. After treatment, the first thing many kids want to do is rejoin their friends in sports and Physical Education class. If they get back on the field too early, though, they run the risk of becoming seriously injured. If a child is cleared for sport, but returning right away could be dangerous, what acts as the bridge between treatment and normal physical activity?
In 2006, Professional Physical Therapy Chief Clinical Officer and founder Rob Panariello joined together with Paul Fick, Certified Athletic Trainer and Director of Business Relations at Professional, to create a program that fills this gap. Back in the Game brings recently cleared childhood cancer-survivors back up to the same level of fitness and agility as their peers by combining Physical Therapy with modified Physical Education exercises. Kids participate in running, stretching, light lifting, and coordination and agility activities to get them back to everyday physical activity much quicker than they would without guidance.
The Back in the Game program also has a positive effect on overall confidence. “These kids are so deconditioned from treatment,” said Paul Fick, “that everything changes when they participate in Back in the Game. They have neurological and physical recovery, yes, but one of the biggest changes we see is the increase in confidence – not only in them, but in their parents as well.”
Families also benefit from Back in the Game. Siblings, who often fall off the radar during the treatment journey, participate in bonding activities with their brother or sister at the end of each class, and parents witness and celebrate their son or daughter’s amazing resiliency and triumphs.
“[My son] has benefited from this program in so many more ways than I ever imagined. The trainers were so helpful and caring. They gave him the confidence and drive to be the best he can be. He came out of every session with a smile and was so proud of what he accomplished,” said Cindy Polo, the mother of a young brain-cancer survivor who took part in this spring’s session of Back in the Game. “As a parent there is nothing better than to see your child so happy and proud after going through all he has. This experience has been the most inspirational thing. It has touched our family in ways you can’t imagine. Our only regret is that we didn’t start this sooner.”
Perhaps one of the greatest underlying purposes of Back in the Game is the reinstatement of a hope that sometimes goes missing during treatment. It is with that hope that a family comes together again and a child boldly overcomes the obstacles in his path to live out the life he or she has always dreamt of.