GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- More than 60 percent of people diagnosed with cancer are surviving, but that statistic is causing a new problem: how to assimilate them back into life.
Mary Free Bed wants to solve the problem with a new cancer rehabilitation program and a $54 million expansion.
Anyone who has been through chemotherapy understands the term "chemo brain," that unfocused, can't complete my thoughts side effect of chemotherapy. That's just one of the many post-cancer treatments Mary Free Bed will focus on with their new Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program.
For any cancer patient, surviving and living a long life is the goal, but there's a sometimes unexpected price to pay; The side effects of surgery and treatment that may leave you not quite the way you were before cancer.
"Once they got the seizures stopped I didn't have any use of my left arm. And you can see that it's definitely improved since then." Cancer rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed has helped Theresa overcome complications with her brain cancer treatments. Her once limited mobility continues to improve, giving her more independence.
"There's these folks out there that feel they have to live with the changes from their treatment," says Dr. Christian Vandenberg. He wants to change that, as the new director of the Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program at Mary Free Bed by bringing awareness to the need for cancer survivor rehab.
"Betty Ford was all about awareness and about being incredibly candid and open about challenges that she had had in her life," says Dr. Vandenberg.
While giving a tour of Mary Free Bed Hospital with Susan Ford Bales, Dr. Vandenberg explained how the Ford family's generous gift will improve the lives of those surviving cancer.
"When patients are receiving certain types of chemotherapies that we know cause peripheral neuropathies, we hope that we would get it early enough and potentially the body could heal itself before it gets to the point of no return," says Dr. Vandenberg.
During the ground breaking ceremony for the new $54 million expansion, Susan Ford Bales shared her family history with the Mary Free Bed Hospital. It includes her grandmother Hortense Bloomer, a founding member of the Mary Free Bed Guild and her mother Betty a member of the Junior Guild; both are the inspiration for the Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program.
"I do take great pride in knowing that my mom and grandma Bloomer would be personally delighted to join me in this announcement," says Bales. "It now explains why my mother was involved with crippled children. When we were growing up she never explained that to us, so now all the pieces come together and it all makes sense and it's just a real honor to continue it."
"This is all new, no one is really doing this now. And that's what is exciting to us-- that we really feel like we're on the cutting edge of this," says Dr. Vandenberg.
The $54 million expansion of Mary Free Bed Hospital doesn't just include the Betty Bloomer Cancer Rehabilitation Program, it will also include the renovation of the current building plus a new six-story building that will occupy a now vacant lot next to the hospital.
The renovation will allow for increases in staff and all of the hospital's rehabilitation programs, as well as research and clinical trials.
The new building is expected to open in 2014; the renovations on the current building are expected to be completed in the winter of 2015.