When you are diagnosed with cancer, cancer treatment is of utmost importance and becomes the primary focus for cancer patients, and for good reason. Going into treatment, most patients are aware that cancer treatments are taxing and require physical and mental stamina. Being able to tolerate the rigors of treatment is essential for optimal outcomes.
However, many patients are not fully ready for the physical challenges (severe fatigue, weakness, muscle atrophy, balance issues, neuropathy – to name a few). With more and more patients surviving cancer, cancer rehabilitation programs have increased in visibility and necessity. Cancer rehab is proven to help with managing side effects of chemotherapy and radiation as well as improving overall tolerance to treatment which again, is essential to a good outcome.
Even so, a 2015 study indicated that only 9-11% of cancer survivors currently utilize or are referred to cancer rehabilitation even though they have issues that could be improved with rehabilitation. This could be because survivors are unaware that such programs exist but also because many oncologists and physicians are not fully aware of the benefits or availability of such rehab programs.
Why Cancer Rehabilitation?
Cancer rehabilitation is ‘physical therapy’ (and at times occupational or speech therapy) provided by therapists who are highly trained and experienced in specialized rehabilitation interventions for cancer patients.
Cancer rehabilitation programs have a high success rate in minimizing the aftereffects caused by cancer treatments. Those aftereffects can include significant fatigue, pain, general deconditioning, muscle atrophy, balance loss – and with some treatments, heart problems. These aftereffects quite often lead to a decreased quality of life. A cancer rehab program helps restore (or maintain) your health and wellness, helping you to live your best life, even during treatment.
Cancer rehab can include: stretching and strengthening exercises, cardiorespiratory training, balance training, scar management, pain management, lymphedema treatment as well as education on how you can maximize your function while going through or recovering from treatment.
While many patients start cancer rehab either during or after cancer treatment is completed, you can also start your cancer rehabilitation program before you even begin cancer treatments. Cancer ‘prehabilitation’ includes proactive education on strategies to maintain your strength and function as well as regular assessments that help your therapist determine what your post-treatment recovery plan will look like.
This key element can help to prevent the typical functional decline a lot of cancer patients experience. If you begin cancer treatment in a less than an optimal physical state, this can reduce your success with withstanding the rigors of treatment. If you have pre-treatment weakness or other issues that could negatively affect your ability to tolerate cancer treatments you may begin a structured exercise program to increase your strength, endurance, and functional status to give you the best chance at successfully completing your treatments.
Choosing the Right Cancer Rehabilitation Program
There are a few elements to choosing the cancer rehabilitation program for you. The expertise of the program and therapists, the program’s suitability to your needs, and your relationship with your therapist are all factors to consider when deciding which program to choose.
Cancer rehabilitation programs are not created equally. Some programs may appear as if they are expertly positioned to help you when the therapists, in reality, lack the certifications and knowledge to help. Specializations, certifications, extensive education, and experience in cancer rehabilitation (ie. how many years working with cancer patients) can be helpful indications that your therapist knows how to help you best.
It should be noted that therapists graduate as generalists, just as doctors do. You want to find a therapist who has chosen to dedicate their career to caring for cancer patients and survivors. You look for that when choosing your oncologist and other members of your medical team – and you should do the same when choosing a cancer rehab physical therapist.
Suitability to Your Needs
Perhaps it goes without saying but the program that you choose must meet your needs – safely. If you enter a rehab program that is rigid and not at the right speed for you, you will want to reconsider. Cancer treatments can cause aftereffects that require altering or modifying the typical physical therapy program.
Your program should be reflective of what you have experienced, the treatments you had/are going through, and the challenges you are currently experiencing – all while ensuring the program is safe for you. Use discernment when choosing your program and ensure your therapists are highly trained and experienced in rehabilitation for cancer patients and survivors.
An appropriate cancer rehabilitation program is tailored to meet you where you are and to get you where you want to be. Each patient is closely evaluated and a highly individualized treatment plan is developed based on your needs – and your current status.
Your relationship with your physical therapist is key to choosing the right rehabilitation program. The people you partner with will be keeping you accountable, supporting you as you complete the program, and encouraging you along the way. This relationship can make a world of difference in your success. Finding a therapist you can trust and that you “connect” with is key and you should have full confidence in your therapists’ qualifications. They will be helping you through a difficult time in your recovery.
Partner with Us
The therapists at Oncology Rehab and Wellness are highly trained and experienced in treating patients with all cancers and we have a full-time Certified Lymphedema Therapist on staff. Our specialized programs have been developed over the past 8+ years and are based on the currently available knowledge and research in cancer rehabilitation. We treat cancer patients and survivors – only.
We are not an orthopedic practice that also treats cancer patients. We are 100% dedicated to ensuring the best rehab for cancer patients. Our cancer rehabilitation program’s mission is to help survivors recover, rebuild and restore their lives. We provide safe, effective exercise programs to help you maintain or rebuild your strength, cardiovascular fitness/endurance, decrease fatigue levels to enable you to return to your life after cancer treatment.
Find out more about our cancer rehabilitation offerings. We invite you to speak or meet with us in person to see if we are a good fit for you: schedule your free 15-minute consultation. We are happy to answer any and all questions you may have. We want you to feel fully confident in what we can do to help you in your recovery.