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Occupational therapists can help cancer patients

Mickie Toutant, Occupational Therapist

One of the most common side effects associated with cancer treatments is the feeling of being fatigued. This feeling can affect many aspects of a person’s life. It may affect an individual’s mood or emotions, or the ability to do usual daily activities, and it can affect the time they are able to spend with family and friends or their ability to perform their job.

Fortunately for those battling fatigue due to cancer treatments, there are specific programs and services available that address a person’s physical recovery.

It is extremely important for individuals with cancer to maintain at least a minimal level of exercise and activity. Doing so assists them in staying physically and emotionally strong and healthy and contributes to their overall sense of well being. Even small amounts (three to 10 minutes) of exercise a few times a day can be very beneficial. Additionally, it is imperative that those battling cancer, continue to perform their typical daily activities as much as possible. Although it may be tempting to just let things go for a while, daily activities help the individual to maintain energy levels, physical strength and range of motion. Of course, some days are better than others, but the goal is to keep moving.

When surgery is necessary to remove a lump or tumor, such as lumpectomy or mastectomy, often there is a loss in range of motion and increase in pain, not to mention scar tissue forming and the skin feeling sensitive and tight. Additionally, swelling may also occur around the surgery area causing a condition called lymphedema.

Lymphedema most often is seen in the arm and under-arm areas of breast cancer patients. The condition can be very painful and even debilitating. Patients with this condition can work with occupational therapists who are specially trained to treat lymphedema to minimize the effects. OTs can offer education, lymphedema management, specific exercises and pressure sleeves, all of which can be used to help relieve and even avoid this condition.

In addition to surgery, cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, medication regimes and stress can cause fatigue and limit day-to-day activity tolerance. Occupational therapists can address concepts such as activity modification, self pacing, simplifying daily activities and strategies for energy restoration. All these can help minimize the impact of cancer treatments on the individual.
Focusing on physical treatments and recovery is just one part of the journey – emotional support and recovery also are extremely important. Support, encouragement and reassurance are a key part of rehabilitation therapy.

Those battling cancer should remember they do not have to do everything for themselves. Save energy for the things that bring joy to your life and the things that are most important.

If you currently are undergoing treatments for cancer, the Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare and Flagstaff Medical Center would like to offer a complimentary session to address an individual’s cancer fatigue and course for rehabilitation. These services are provided by a licensed occupational therapist that specializes in cancer rehabilitation. For more information on this complimentary program, call FMC’s Therapy Services at 928 773-2125.

Mickie Toutant, O.T., occupational therapist in Flagstaff Medical Center’s Therapy Services, specializes in neuro therapy, hand therapy and working with cancer survivors. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit