Occupational Therapy Assists Breast Cancer Survivors
Physical and cognitive rehab makes side effects of disease more manageable
CHICAGO, Ill.—When Catherine Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994—and again in 2002—she knew what was ahead of her: procedures, chemotherapy, and strong prescription drugs. What she did not expect were the side effects of the treatments, including a cognitive condition that some call "chemo brain."
"There are still things I can't do. I find when I'm talking I have to force myself to concentrate on what I'm saying. It's hard to remember what I've said to someone, and I can feel that my thinking pattern is a little off," says Ross, now 56, adding that her cancer treatment has affected her short-term memory, writing, and spelling. "One day at work, I was struggling to put my empty lunch containers back into my lunch bag when a co-worker suggested I put them inside of each other. I just laughed because it's something I would have automatically done before my chemotherapy."
With the help of two occupational therapists, Ross is working to manage the cognitive setbacks of her treatment and the painful lymphedema she has as a result of lymph node removal. Occupational therapy practitioners work with patients at various stages of the breast cancer diagnosis to address the physical, emotional, and cognitive implications associated with chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery which can result in the decreased ability to engage in daily activities and tasks.
Ross recently participated in a pilot program called "Take Action," a new occupational therapy program for breast cancer survivors in the survivorship phase of care that addresses the cognitive effects of chemotherapy and other late effects of cancer treatments on daily life. The research program was developed by Robin Newman, OTD, OTR/L, CLT, CDRS, clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and occupational therapist at NorthShore University HealthSystem, after encountering numerous clients with similar cognitive symptoms resulting from breast cancer treatment.
"Working with the women in this group has been incredibly rewarding," says Newman. "The program supports not only the physical, but also the emotional and cognitive needs of breast cancer survivors throughout the continuum of care and into survivorship. Occupational therapists play an important role in helping breast cancer survivors perform meaningful everyday tasks such as activities in the home, at work, and in the community through client-centered care."
Occupational therapy intervention approaches used with breast cancer are holistic and comprehensive and are conducted in hospitals, rehab centers, hospice and palliative care units, the patient's home, and in the community. Some examples include:
- Conducting baseline assessments and pre-operative counseling.
- Screening and monitoring performance deficits and improvements throughout survivorship.
- Training on therapeutic range-of-motion exercises and muscle re-education techniques, which progresses into performing meaningful activities such as grooming and bathing.
- Addressing lymphedema through therapy and modifying activities and routines.
- Providing instruction on self-care management.
- Identifying cognitive deficits affecting occupational roles, and providing training to successfully complete activities such as preparing meals or driving safely with minimal distractions.
To schedule an interview with Robin Newman or Catherine Ross, or to learn more about occupational therapy's role in breast cancer recovery, call AOTA Media Relations Manager Katie Riley, 301-652-6611, ext. 2963 or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.aota.org.
Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting standards including accreditations, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., AOTA's major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, go to www.aota.org.