Luis Mendieta (L) ​​with close friend, Timothy. Luis passed away on Jan. 15, 2016. (Photo: Toronto Rehab Foundation)​

On Feb. 4, 2016, people across the world marked World Cancer Day by sharing stories of courage and hope – and how we can improve the quality of life for those living with cancer. One week later, we honour Luis Mendieta’s legacy by sharing his story.

Luis Mendie​ta was first diagnosed with cancer in July 2013 during an annual check-up. At age 62, he learned he had prostate cancer.

But cancer wasn't going to stop Luis from travelling the world.

Following his first round of chemotherapy, he set off to the Philippines to visit his family; however when he returned to Canada, he received devastating news.

The cancer had spread to his hip.

For the next three months, Luis received extensive chemotherapy treatments causing his muscles to deteriorate, weakening his mobility and function.

Yet Luis was determined to start walking again. He joined Toronto Rehab's Cancer Rehab program, and began working with ​Dr. Eugene Chang, Cancer Rehab Specialist.

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Dr. Eugene Chang, Cancer Rehab Specialist, helped Luis regain his mobility and function after extensive cancer treatment. (Photo: Toronto Rehab Foundation)​​

Dr. Chang was a first-year physiatry (rehab medicine) resident when he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a cancer affecting the bone marrow. At the age of 25, he had no choice but to put his medical career on hold while he focused on treatment.

The challenges he faced battling his way back to physical health inspired the rehabilitation medicine specialist to rethink his career.  He decided to pursue a subspecialty for which there is a growing need, becoming Canada's first trained cancer physiatrist.

What is a Physiatrist? Physiatrists, medical doctors specializing in rehabilitation, are nerve, muscle, and bone experts who treat injuries or illnesse​​s affecting movement. They have completed training in the specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Their focus is on the development of a comprehensive program for putting the pieces of a person’s life back together after injury or disease.

"Physical rehabilitation may not be considered as important initially for a cancer survivor compared to someone with a fracture or spinal cord trauma, but research is starting to show us that it is," says Dr. Chang.

"At Toronto Rehab, we can improve the quality of life for both types of patients. This means a return to independence and functioning in all parts of life."

Dr. Chang is now delivering this highly specialized and world-leading care as a rehabilitation consultant on the Acquired Brain Injury and Musculoskeletal/Oncology inpatient units at Toronto Rehab, and has outpatient clinics at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

This specialized rehabilitation helps cancer survivors minimize the potential risk of long-term disability, improve daily function and maximize quality of life.

Luis worked with Dr. Chang and therapists Jennifer Soong and Meghan McCorma​​ck for three weeks, and they helped him to ultimately achieve his goal of walking out of the hospital on his own two feet.

“I was blessed to have worked with Luis during his inpatient rehabilitation stay at Toronto Rehab," Jennifer says. "Throughout his stay, Luis was incredibly motivated to regain his strength and function. He approached his battle with cancer with such strength and positivity, and he taught us all about living life to the fullest."
“Each day, he came into therapy with a smile, even though he was struggling and in pain. He was an inspiration to everyone on his rehab team, as well as other patients in the therapy gym, often acting as a 'cheerleader' for others​​.”

In memory of Luis Mendieta, who lost his battle to cancer on Jan. 15, 2016.​

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