Occupational Therapist Advises Rehab at Cancer Diagnosis
You get the diagnosis of cancer.
You get treatment. Surgery. Chemo. Radiation.
Then you wait to find out if it worked.
You try to go back to life as normal.
But life is far from what it was before.
“Ninety-five percent of cancer survivors have at least one residual effect of that treatment, but only 5 percent get treated for it,” said Tracy Bender, occupational therapist specializing in cancer rehabilitation and lymphedema at Southeast Nebraska Cancer Center. “Eighty percent of cancer patients develop some form of post traumatic stress. And, if it is not addressed it can cause fears and complications with cancer.
“Rehabilitation is not the standard of care with cancer.”
But it should be, Bender said.
This past April, Bender, along with Cortney Driewer, began offering specialized cancer rehabilitation services for patients through the cancer center. Next week, they will be joined by a third assistant and lymphedema specialist, Michaela Bidrowsky, to work with a growing number of cancer patients taking proactive steps to stop the residual side effects before they take hold.
After cancer and treatment, patients experience a variety of lingering effects — weakness, numbness and pain from nerve damage, swelling (lymphedema), physical constraints and psychosocial/emotional changes, Bender said.
Many cancer survivors believe they “just have to live with” the effects.
But Bender says rehab programs — particularly those begun before surgery and treatment — actually helps patients prepare and recognize early signs of residual effects, resulting in shorter rehab and improved success.
That is especially true with lymphedema, a chronic and frequently debilitating swelling of the limbs and other body parts resulting from changes in the lymphatic system.
Lymphedema is an abnormal collection of high-protein fluid just beneath the skin. Normally, the body’s lymph system moves this fluid out of the body. But when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes are removed, as with cancer treatment, the fluid collects and continues to build in an affected area, triggering inflammation, and scar tissue (fibrosis), which makes it even more difficult to eliminate the excess fluid, according to the National Lymphedema Network.