Thyroid Cancer: A Story of HOPE and Survival
Patricia Ybarra has been cancer free for 18 years. Her story of survivorship is one that includes a committed medical oncologist, a hospital focused on providing proactive cancer treatment and rehabilitation, and an innovative program based on HOPE.
Ybarra’s diagnosis came in 1998, after a small lump in her throat turned out to be thyroid cancer. With no history of cancer in her family, she took the lump to be a byproduct of drainage she experienced as a chronic nasal allergy sufferer. But after surgery to remove her thyroid, the news from the pathologist was not as expected.
A long-time Arlington resident, Ybarra turned to Alfred DiStefano, M.D., at Arlington Cancer Center for support. The Texas Health Physicians Group practice and its well-regarded physician have been with her since the beginning of her cancer journey. She still relies on Dr. DiStefano to perform yearly checkups ― but Ybarra’s story doesn’t end here.
In 2012, she suffered a stoke that led her to recovery and rehabilitation at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. Looking for a path to ongoing good health and wellness, she joined the hospital’s onsite fitness center. It was during a yoga class that she discovered her next exercise in survival.
“I began talking with one of the other participants and found out that she was an instructor for Texas Health Arlington’s HOPE program,” Ybarra said. “She told me about the program and I was sold. I decided that HOPE was a group I needed to join!”
HOPE (Healthy Options and Physical Exercise) has played an integral role in Texas Health Arlington becoming and remaining a nationally accredited cancer center. The program is designed for survivors of all types of cancer and works to help participants recover from cancer treatments through support and movement.
“The HOPE program is so much more than an exercise program, it’s a support network,” explained Joy Griffin, BSN, RN, community benefits coordinator for Texas Health Arlington. “The participants in the class come from all walks of life, and varying ages (from 40s to 80s) and cancer diagnoses. I believe that every person in the class ― or Hopefuls, as I call them, will tell you that this program is a huge part of their survival. The participants have become very close friends and they lean on each other to get through the day-to-day process of healing. Whether newly diagnosed or a 20-year survivor, this program addresses individualized mind, body and spiritual needs.”
HOPE instructors are trained in anatomy, restorative yoga, therapeutic touch and yoga for the cancer survivor; and the program boasts a zero percent staff turnover rate. To ensure a positive participant experience, instructors attend a yearly two-hour workshop and attend each other’s classes occasionally to get a feel for different teaching methods.
“The women in my exercise group are very lovable and fun, and they are always available to answer any questions and lend support,” Ybarra said. “I especially like that they tailor class time to deal with the issues that we are currently facing in our cancer experiences. Many of the yoga poses are meant to strengthen and stretch parts of the body recovering from cancer surgeries and treatments. Two of the instructors, Jessica and Jennifer, will usually end each session with inspirational words.”
Ybarra encourages anyone who is on a cancer journey to see what HOPE is all about by contacting Griffin for more information. “I love being a champion for something that has improved my life so profoundly.”