Occupational Therapy for Individuals Living With Cancer


Since we started our blog in March of 2014, we have discussed the role of Physical Therapy (PT) in helping those with cancer recover more fully and improve their quality of life. We are now looking forward to expanding our discussions into the role of other therapies and interventions in cancer recovery, the first of which is Occupational Therapy (OT). OT plays an essential part in helping those with cancer greatly improve their quality of life and maximize their function. We look forward to helping you to discover all that OT can do to help you live your life to its fullest!

 We are honored to have a guest blogger this month! Naomi Aaronson, MA, OTR/L, CHT, CET will be discussing the role of Occupational Therapy (OT) in cancer recovery. Among her accomplishments, Naomi has been an OT for 25 years, she specializes in breast cancer rehab, has co-authored a book and is a lecturer for masters level OT students. We thank her for taking the time to share her expertise.


I live in a 6 floor building in NYC with a lot of seniors who have multiple health issues. One of my neighbors had been struggling with peripheral neuropathy after undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. He told me that he wanted to drive, be able to use his computer, and not drop coffee cups. I gently suggested to him several times to ask for a prescription for both occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT), as I felt that it would help him greatly. Mr. R finally decided to ask his oncologist for prescriptions and we began treatment. Although peripheral neuropathy due to chemotherapy can be painful, he complained mostly about a lack of hand strength, a desire to sign his name and use his computer, as well as holding his coffee cups without breaking. After an OT evaluation, I recommended several things. They included a hand and wrist strengthening program, wearing dish washing gloves when holding and washing his coffee cup, and purchasing a built up gel pen to use when writing. Although these may sound simple, they made a difference! Someone was finally helping him achieve his goals to function on a daily basis and live his life as independently as possible.

Occupational Therapy has an integral role in supporting cancer survivors’ ability to maintain their quality of life. Sometimes just getting out of bed after cancer treatment can leave you with little energy to engage in leisure or social tasks, work, or perform your daily living activities such as dressing, bathing, shopping, or child care. Occupational therapy practitioners possess the knowledge and skills to evaluate and provide holistic client centered interventions to address not only physical deficits but also emotional and cognitive issues. Did you know that OT’s are experienced in treating chemotherapy related cognitive dysfunction? We can recommend low tech as well as high tech suggestions to improve memory and attention and help you develop strategies to manage these issues that can affect both your work and your personal life.

Occupational therapists can provide treatment from diagnosis to survivorship . You can find occupational therapists in general hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, hospice units and in home health care. OT services are paid for by Medicare and most insurance plans when you have a documented loss of function .

Here are just some of the ways that OT can help you maximize your recovery. OT can:

  • Address sleep and fatigue issues via energy conservation techniques
  • Provide therapeutic exercise and positioning to maintain joint range of motion and strength
  • Fabricate splints to support limbs in the correct position
  • Recommend adaptive equipment to make you more independent with daily activities such as stocking aides to help put your socks on
  • Redesign your work space to make it more ergonomic and user friendly
  • Recommend home modifications to maximize your independence and function
  • Assist with lymphedema treatment, educate on strategies to improve your independence
  • Develop cognitive strategies to address memory and organization
  • Improve daily living skills such as bathing and dressing through modifications or the use of special equipment such as tub benches

As quality of life interventionists, Occupational Therapists can help make your journey through cancer better physically, cognitively as well as emotionally. “Living Life to The Fullest” is the motto of our professional organization the American Occupational Therapy Association, and we are here to assist you.


Longpre, S and Newman, R. AOTA Fact Sheet The Role of Occupational Therapy in Oncology 2011

Silver, J. Overview of OT’s Role in Cancer Rehab 2013 www.occupationaltherapy.com


Naomi Aaronson MA OTR/L CHT CET is an occupational therapist, mat Pilates instructor and Cancer Exercise Trainer. She specializes in hand therapy and breast cancer rehabilitation. Naomi is co-author of the recently published book “Pilates for Breast Cancer Survivors: A Guide to Recovery, Healing, and Wellness” which is available on Amazon.com.   Writing and creating courses has become one of Naomi’s passions, and she has been busy designing webinars for occupational therapists. Her webinars include Finger and Hand Fitness for School Based Therapists, An Introduction to Pilates for Occupational Therapists, and Critical Knowledge When Working with Breast Cancer Survivors. Naomi lectures regularly to Masters Level Occupational Therapy students on breast cancer rehabilitation as well as non- traditional areas of practice. In addition, she loves to learn about and explore other countries. Recent travel places include Costa Rica, Barcelona and Prague. She still does mat Pilates daily, and completed Reformer 1 and 2 training through Balanced Body.

Naomi’s motto is “Take back your mind and body after undergoing breast cancer surgery and treatment.”