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"You Learn the Tricks": A Cancer Patient And Doctor Reflects On The Rehab Process

Dr. Flockhart putting on a sock
Lauren Weghorst
/
After radiation and surgery, mundane tasks have become more difficult.

During treatment and rehab, Dr. David Flockhart remained curious about his own advanced form of glioblastoma. Hear him discuss his new perspective as a patient.

On a personalized form of treatment:

"I think everybody’s felt for a good while that there were some cancers that responded to, anecdotally, just little tweaks to the immune system. If somebody had an infection or example, some cancers seemed to respond to that, but why on earth would that be? Turns out that the immune system is a really important part of our body’s response to cancer and our protection against it. So it makes sense that you’d be able to devise immune therapies, that means specific antibodies or specific cellular treatments that could be used to limit the extent [of], or indeed to kill the cancer and that’s being successful in some areas already."

On how the effect of the treatment is just as important as the treatment itself:

"I’ve had a bit of nausea and I’m getting more tired as the radiation goes on. But I learned little tricks myself about that, about fatigue. Other than just really crude things like taking some stimulant drug, like coffee, there’s this really interesting thing where if you’re really tired in the morning and you just lie there, you get progressively more tired. But if you get up and move around even a little bit you get over that little inhibition and it’s like the gates open up. The more you move around the more it opens up. You’ve got to mentally push yourself over that little bit and if you do there’s a great reward on the other side which is you’re functional again." 

On what has changed during treatment:

"My ability to walk downstairs for sure. I cannot run downstairs anymore. However, I can walk downstairs much faster than the week before. The brain is relearning and that is amazing to me … Once you’ve done it a few times it’s not that hard. But texting was a lot harder than cleaning my teeth."

On the rehabilitation process:

"I gradually recovered a bit of memory. My short-term memory retention was really bad in the beginning. They would do this test where they would ask three or four words and then they would go off on a completely unrelated conversation about the weather or whatever for about two or three minutes. Then they would come back and ask you what the words were and at the beginning I would say, “What three words?” Literally that bad. But then you learn the tricks. Like oh she’s going to ask me in a few minutes what those three words are. So you get better and better at it."

Dr. David Flockhart is a pharmacogeneticist at the Indiana University School of Medicine. 

Explore the rest of the series:

Part 1: After Cancer Diagnosis, One Doctor Takes On Two Roles: Expert And Patient

Part 2: Forgetting How to Text, Relearning How to Write: A Doctor Works Through His Own Cancer

Part 4: So Many Unknowns: A Doctor's Frustration with Cancer Is Not What You'd Expect

Part 5: In the Midst of His Own Cancer Treatment, A Doctor Scans Family DNA For A Link

Part 6: Sometimes The Most Effective Form Of Cancer Therapy Is Just Caring