Currently “Movember, ” raising awareness of prostate and testicular cancer, and on the heels of Breast Cancer Awareness month, learning about the consequences of cancer and its treatment is timely. While surviving cancer is a tremendous victory, living with potential limitations can be challenging. The statistics suggest that cancer patients are three times more likely to have health, psychosocial and physical impairments. Pain is very common and present in 30% to 90% of survivors. Surgical site scarring, limited joint motion or overall mobility issues can result. Swelling and or weakness secondary to chemotherapy, radiation, or the cancer itself is common. Sometimes side effects of treatment are so problematic and pervasive it is difficult for a patient to be grateful for surviving at all.
Rehabilitation is the process of returning to activity and function after illness or injury. It covers many dimensions including pain management, speech and swallowing, mobility, self-care such as showering and dressing, and advanced activities including work, driving and exercising.
Medically directed pain management and rehabilitation empowers a cancer survivor to return to their pre-cancer life and activities faster and more fully. Following are the types of rehabilitation available to anyone with symptoms of pain, weakness, limited range of motion and or decreased activity levels:
Medical: Doctors diagnose the source of the pain or movement limitation and treat with individually prescribed therapy, medications, procedures, and injections as needed
Physical Therapy: Personalized treatment sessions usually in a gym-like setting to address large limb and lower body function, getting up and down, and walking; includes guided exercise
Occupational Therapy: Hands on upper body and fine motor rehabilitation; includes vocational therapy (homemaking and job retraining)
Speech Therapy: Training that aids in swallowing, communication, memory and facial and vocal functioning
(Neuro)psychology: Evaluates and treats cognitive and mood disorders resulting from cancers of the brain or neurological side effects of chemotherapy or radiation.
Rehabilitation professionals are encouraging, reassuring health care providers who patiently teach practical lessons to restore quality of life. This includes personalized assessment of all aspects of day to day activities and improving mood through positive feedback and encouragement. Sometimes recovery can take over a year. Returning to pre-cancer treatment activity level is the goal. Anyone who has undergone cancer treatment should consider rehabilitation (which is often covered by health insurance!) to improve their everyday well-being. Through medically guided therapy, medications as needed, and psychological support to ensure quality sleep, nutrition and fitness, cancer survivors will be able to feel like the champion that they are.