Johns Hopkins Oncology Survivorship Program Helps Patients Form a Community

More than 4,000 people have participated in Sibley Memorial Hospital’s integrative health programs.

Oncology Survivorship Program
Published in Community Health - Community Health Stories

Cyclist and mountaineer Ken Sands was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a rare type of cancer that developed in his left leg, in late 2017. He had 25 radiation treatments in early 2018, followed by surgery in March 2018 to remove the tumor. Doctors also removed the hamstring muscles, nerves and skin between the back of the knee and his hip to ensure the cancer did not spread.

“As you can imagine, the physical trauma was significant, and the mental and emotional trauma was extensive,” says Sands, who resides in Washington, D.C. “The Sibley yoga classes, and especially the meditation classes, helped me tremendously to regain a sense of myself.”

According to Pamela Goetz, oncology survivorship program manager at Sibley Memorial Hospital and Suburban Hospital, patients and their caregivers seek ways to support their physical, mental and social well-being. Both hospitals’ integrative programming meets some of this need; attendance in the classes has exceeded 4,000 participants in the past year. The classes include yoga, meditation, Reiki for self-care, nature and healing, and art therapy sessions. They are open to patients, their caregivers and community members.

“Cancer care is complex, requiring multiple treatment modalities and providers a radiation oncologist, a surgeon and medical oncologists, plus other specialists. People are often surprised by a diagnosis, and it’s scary,” says Goetz. “While the health care system focuses on the essential treatment, other types of support help the whole person cope and recover. So, support groups and integrative health classes are hugely helpful for actively participating in their recovery.”

For Sands, meditation and yoga classes have been highly beneficial.

“I was not in a good mental space, and surgery was invasive. Having new physical limitations was tough,” says Sands. “It was also challenging to face my mortality. I learned about the meditation classes and thought I’d give it a try. I immediately felt at ease.”

Sands says he took a while to embrace meditation because he had never done it before.

“I’d been going for a month and a half, and I started having moments of clarity,” Sands says. “Clearing out the clutter of the mind helped me realize what I really cared about. It’s helped me understand that things you go through in life, you can’t label them as good or bad. It just is. You have to stay in the present moment. Be with yourself as you are right now.”

There’s also a sense of community when you are in a class with several people going through the same thing, says Sands.

“You have a shared understanding and shared history,” says Sands. “I met people with liposarcomas, and we had empathy for each other. It was also good to see that they were doing fine.”

Sibley Memorial and Suburban also offer support groups. People are brought together around specific cancer types. The groups provide opportunities to talk about what people are going through, such as disease progression or financial issues.

Becky Pfordresher has practiced yoga for 25 years. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2022, she says her doctor handed her a binder with various resources. There, she found Sibley’s support groups and yoga classes.

“In those first few months, you’re overwhelmed with the reality of what you’re facing,” says Pfordresher, of Washington, D.C. “The resources helped to keep me informed. I felt like I had a little more control in a situation where I felt out of control.”

In the support groups and yoga classes, Pfordresher made connections with other women. They also guided her on what to expect during and after her double mastectomy surgery and breast reconstruction.

“It was a lifeline and community for me,” says Pfordresher.

Clinical oncology social worker Janie Meiser says support groups are a great way to learn more information and interact with people who have a similar experience.

“I notice that at the end of each group, it feels like everyone was able to unload. Everyone seems lighter,” Meiser says. “They come away with questions to ask their doctors and tips or tricks to deal with the diagnosis. These groups make people feel connected and less isolated while undergoing treatment.”

For information about oncology survivorship programs, visit