Cancer sucks. Period. Even the word sucks. I hate everything about it as do most people in this world. Nowadays, I would say it would be very hard to find someone who has not been directly impacted by cancer, whether they themselves have been diagnosed, a close family member, friend, colleague etc.

Looking back over the years, I am so thankful for smart people in this world who fight daily to help rid our world of it. New treatments and protocols are being created to help decrease the effects and in some cases, even cure people of this dreaded disease! We can see this in the numbers:

2015 we had 15.5 million cancer survivors. By the end of 2020, we are expected to have >20 million here in the united states! This lets us know that treatments are effective and allowing people despite their diagnosis, to continue to live!

So yes. More and more people are being considered as “survivors” due to better treatment and outcomes, but what do we know specifically about these peoples “new normal?”

  • Out of 975 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer, 33% of men and 40% of women were unable to return to work 12 months following their diagnosis.
  • Out of 83 patients with head and neck cancer, >67% reported driving significantly less, or not at all during their treatment.
  • A study looking at >9000 cancer patients identified that <5% of these patients reported making lifestyle modifications including smoking cessations, eating fruits and veggies and exercises >150 min per week (all help with decrease cancer risk and increase in survival rate)
  • Lastly, looking at cancer rehab units, >87% of patients demonstrated major functional loss (decreased ability to walk, do chores, work) but <18% of these complaints were addressed.

What does this mean?

I believe we have addressed half of the cancer problem with new treatments, medication, and surgical intervention. Yes! I am so glad these things are allowing people to live longer but at what cost? We know that things like chemotherapy and radiation can be toxic, causing weakness, loss of mobility and poor tolerance to our activities of daily living. People receive a diagnosis that changes the course of their lives, are thrown into intense treatments that literally save their lives, but are then told that this is their “new normal”. Pain. Weakness. Swelling. Loss of function. They lack the tools and guidance to help address these new problems as well as general education in decreasing risk of return of cancer.  This my friends is where things can be so much different.

So what’s the answer?

Luckily, this problem has been noted by many and wheels are turning across the globe to address this. The American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC) has identified Cancer Rehabilitation as a core service that its accredited hospitals must provide to their cancer patients. More therapists are getting educated on how to treat people with cancer and what we can do specifically to help people overcome their problems.

Cancer rehabilitation by definition provides an evaluation/intervention assisted in the restoration of maximum function and ability in ANY patient with cancer, at any point in the disease continuum.

Disciplines such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, dieticians, massage therapist etc can all be a part of your cancer rehabilitation team.

Study after study demonstrates cancer patients and survivors complain of things including but not limited to:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Scar adhesions
  • Decreased swallowing/speech difficulties
  • Falls
  • Difficulties returning to prior level of function

As therapists, this is our jam! We receive Doctorate level degrees in preventing and treating these exact things. We are experts in movement restoration, exercise prescription, musculoskeletal management and so much more.

If you were to have a stroke, ACL repair or injure your back, a referral to therapy is automatic. It would be considered crazy for you not to go and get your problems addressed. So why not cancer?

We are already seeing that people taking advantage of rehabilitation during their cancer treatment are seeing some pretty cool results:

  • Out of 32 cancer patients that reports moderate to severe fatigue during chemotherapy underwent 3 weeks of aerobic and resistance training reported >25% reduction in global fatigue
  •  Group of breast cancer patients who underwent supervised physical therapy working on strength and endurance had a prolonged overall survival and disease-free interval.

My hope is that tides are changing My hope is that more people can be referred to the discipline they need to address the problems they incurred throughout their cancer treatment. My hope is that cancer survivors don’t have to be okay with their “new normal”.

Cancer sucks. It’s the worst. Let’s continue to work each day so maybe it can suck a little less.