Occupational therapy camp serves those with breast cancer

By Katie Riley posted 10-27-2020 09:23


In preparation for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I set out to share some real-life examples of how occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants are serving those in various stages of the breast cancer journey. 

Through my AOTA colleagues, I was connected with Colleen Maher, OTD, OTR/L, CHT, from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and Rochelle Mendonca, PhD, OTR/L, from Columbia University in New York City. Together, they jointly direct Camp Discovery, an activity-based, life-changing program for women with cancer. I checked in with them to learn a bit more.

Q: Where did the idea for a camp for people with breast cancer come from, and how does this unique program empower those navigating breast cancer?

There are a limited number of services that help women re-engage in and live a satisfied life after completion of cancer treatment.

The premise of this program was based on the fundamentals of the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework. The activity-based program follows an occupation-focused, health promotion approach to address quality of life and well-being of female cancer survivors. Activities range from physical such as exercise and dance, to sensory such as gardening, to arts and crafts, and to spiritual such as mindfulness meditation.

Q: How often does this camp operate?

We have run between 1 and 3 camps a summer for underserved women with cancer living in the community in the Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Central Pennsylvania areas since 2012.

Q: How successful has it been?

Success of the program has involved partnering with community organizations such as the Cancer Support Community of Philadelphia and students. Assessment of the impact of the camp has shown improvements in health-related quality of life, decrease in pain and fatigue, and an improvement in satisfaction and performance of self-identified goals. Several of participants took activities developed and run in the camp and have now run them in their own local communities.

You can learn more about Camp Discovery by reading these two articles: The Philadelphia Inquirer and University of the Sciences.


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