Will Cancer Rehab Help Me?

Imagine that you are an active person who is fully engaged in a busy life full of work, family, friends, and community responsibilities. Squeezing in an annual physical examination with your doctor is not easy to do, you have so many other commitments. But, you do manage to get an appointment and go for your regular exam. You leave the doctor’s office smiling and rush to get home to start dinner and plan the rest of your evening. A week later, your doctor calls. Bad news. One of your screening tests showed something. “What did it show?”, you ask. Your doctor says you need more tests. More bad news. These tests confirm your worst fear—cancer.

You begin treatment and with each one you feel worse and worse. By the end of the treatments, you feel terrible. You are in pain and have no stamina. Your body doesn’t look like it used to or work like you need it to. If you were in this condition due to a stroke or from injuries due to a car accident or any other serious injury or illness, you would go to rehab. But, you have cancer, and the vast majority of patients aren’t offered rehab. So, you go home, lick your wounds and try to heal as best you can. Overwhelmed and sad, you’ve heard that you should “accept a new normal” more times than you can count. Is this really your new normal?


But, it doesn’t have to be. There is still the opportunity to heal. To become stronger and healthier. However, you’ll probably need help from some rehab professionals. How can you get cancer rehab care? And, why weren’t you offered it already?

I found myself in this situation in my thirties when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a rehabilitation physician (a medical doctor called a physiatrist), I was stunned that someone as sick as me wasn’t immediately referred to rehabilitation professionals. My insurance would cover the care. But, well developed cancer rehab services simply weren’t available—even in Boston—one of the finest cities in the world when it comes to outstanding healthcare.

Because I was a rehab doctor, I knew what to do to help myself heal. Though it would have been much easier if I didn’t have to do it for myself in such a difficult situation, I still managed. Then, I went on to write a book for cancer survivors called “After Cancer Treatment: Heal Faster, Better, Stronger.”  Following this, I founded a company that helps hospitals develop cancer rehab services through a “best practices” model called the STAR (Survivorship Training and Rehab) Program. My work is dedicated to insuring that cancer survivors are not told to accept a new normal too soon—before they’ve had the chance to heal optimally. Whether they live with cancer or not.

Cancer rehabilitation is an important, but all too often missing, part of survivorship care. The truth is, if you have been through cancer treatment or are going through it now, then you probably are a candidate for cancer rehab. The studies show that patients benefit all along the care continuum, from outpatient therapy services (e.g., physical/occupational/speech therapy) to inpatient rehab hospitalizations. Whether someone has Stage I or Stage IV. Regardless of the underlying cancer diagnosis.

I could write many articles on this topic, but for this one I simply want to share with survivors a few key questions and answers. Here goes:

1. Am I candidate for cancer rehab?

Yes, if you have any problems that you didn’t have before your diagnosis. Especially if these problems interfere with your ability to function or your quality of life. The problems may include pain, fatigue, weakness, and a host of other issues.

2. Will my insurance cover cancer rehab?

Yes, if it is offered by rehabilitation professionals with healthcare degrees and licenses in rehabilitation medicine disciplines. These include physiatrists (doctors) and physical/occupational/speech therapists. Other team members’ services that your insurance will usually cover the care if delivered in a healthcare setting include nursing and mental health.

3. My hospital is developing a survivorship care plan—does this mean that I will be offered cancer rehab?

Survivorship care plans are being developed throughout the United States and other countries. Any plan is only as good as the services that it documents. So, the answer is that you won’t necessarily be offered cancer rehab just because a plan is in place. If the services aren’t there to support the plan, they won’t happen.

4. How can I get cancer rehab?

Start by talking to your oncologist or primary care physician. Let him or her know that you think there is room for you to feel better with cancer rehab. Ask about an appropriate referral. You don’t know what is available until you ask. So, don’t skip this first step–ask your doctor about whether there are cancer rehab services available to help you heal as well as possible.

If you want to hear more about cancer rehab and how survivors can heal optimally, leave a comment or click on the FaceBook “Like” icon to the right of this blog. CancerForward wants to hear from you and is dedicated to helping you have the best possible outcome, and for many survivors, this means that they’ll need cancer rehab along the way.

Category: Cancer

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