The Lynx Group

A Conversation with Alberta Hickman, a Lung Cancer Survivor Who Benefited from Cancer Prehabilitation

March 2015, Vol 6, No 2
Julie K. Silver, MD
Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Strategic Initiatives
Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA

Timothy Sherwood, MD, the thoracic surgeon who was featured in Part 2 of this series, referred Alberta Hickman for prehabilitation before operating on her after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Alberta received her care at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, VA, which recently adopted the STAR Program, a best practices cancer rehabilitation model of care. The medical team published Alberta’s story as a case report, because she did so well and her physical function improved after surgery compared with her baseline status before the operation.1 Moreover, she had a shorter-than-usual hospital length of stay for this type of surgery. This is Alberta’s perspective about cancer prehabilitation in her own words.

Q Why do you think Dr Sherwood recommended prehabilitation for you?

Alberta Hickman: I was 75 years old at the time, and I was diagnosed in the emergency department with pneumonia. They found 2 spots: one was cancer, and one was pneumonia. Five months earlier, I had had back surgery, which was my fourth back surgery. Dr Sherwood said, “You are not in good shape,” and I agreed with him, because I just had a big surgery with a lot of metal in my back.

Q What convinced you to go to pre­habilitation?

Ms Hickman: Dr Sherwood told me that I might have to go to a nursing home after the surgery. I just wanted to stay out of that nursing home. Dr Sherwood picked the right words to motivate me!

Q Were you worried that your surgery was going to be delayed?

Ms Hickman: I wasn’t too worried. I have a strong faith in God. I have the best doctor, and with my faith, I was not afraid. And, with the STAR Program, I relied on them getting me in shape, which they did. So, I really wasn’t afraid.

Q You went to physical therapy to improve your strength and endurance. How did that help you?

Ms Hickman: Before the surgery, Dr Sherwood made me go up and down a lot of steps. I had trouble with them. The physical therapists would have me walk halls and go up and down steps. I went to the STAR Program before and after surgery. I felt better after I had been to the STAR Program than before I had surgery. I noticed this because grocery shopping is now easier. I push the cart, and I get a lot of exercise by going to the grocery store. I don’t use the carts you ride around in. I make it a point to walk all over the store. I go several times a week.

Q Were you discouraged or distressed?

Ms Hickman: There was an opportunity that I could have gotten down on myself and just gone downhill, but I don’t want that for my life. It was real comforting to me to know that I was doing something to help myself, and I sure did do it. I did everything they said. I like being independent. I don’t want to be a burden on anybody.

Q What happened when you were in the hospital after surgery?

Ms Hickman: After my surgery, Dr Sherwood came into my room and said, “You’re a super star!” All of the conditioning paid off, and he and I could both tell. That made me really happy, because that’s what I wanted. Dr Sherwood had told me that he thought I would have to spend 3 to 5 nights in the hospital. After the second night, he said, “Would you like to go home?” Of course I said yes. I was happy about that.

Q What did your family think about your cancer prehabilitation?

Ms Hickman: My son was really proud of me doing the STAR Program, and my daughter was too. Everybody has learned from me doing this, that you can have cancer, go to the STAR Program, and get better. They’ve seen it. It’s awareness that just because you have cancer, it doesn’t have to be bad.

Q What do you want to share with healthcare professionals who are reading this article about your experience?

Ms Hickman: I am definitely better off now. I am just thankful that I had all of this. I feel stronger. I try to stay away from any mention of nursing homes. I know if I get cancer again, I’ll just do what the doctors tell me, I’ll go to the STAR Program, and I will get better. I feel very blessed that I had this available to me.


  1. Hunt E, VanderWijst K, Stokes B, et al. Prehabilitation improves the physical functioning of a newly diagnosed lung cancer patient before and after surgery to allow for a safe surgical resection and decreased hospital length of stay: a case report. J Oncol Navig Surviv. 2014;5:34-35.

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