Physical Rehabilitation for Cancer Patients - Genesis Health System

Published on April 12, 2013

Physical Rehabilitation for Cancer Patients

Genesis Cancer Care Institute offers on-site therapies

Sue Lippert, cancer patientSue Lippert fought brain cancer with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. When she completed her treatments, she thought she would feel a sense of strength and euphoria.

Instead, she was hit with overwhelming fatigue.

Her energy plummeted. She was so weak, a short walk from her living room to the bathroom required the use of a walker and help from her husband, Blaine, who supported her with a gait belt. She sat on a stool to take a shower; her husband had to dress her. For two weeks, she lacked the stamina to even step inside her kitchen.

She had put her body through the rigors of cancer treatment at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute, only to feel at her worst several weeks after it was over.

“My body was like ‘OK, I’ve had it.’ The weakness consumed me; to do anything felt like such a huge, huge effort,” says Lippert, 61, of East Moline. “Standing up after sitting in a chair was like climbing a mountain.”

In February, she began oncology rehabilitation at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute, and with the help of lead physical therapist Chris Beuthin, she has regained much of her energy and independence.

“Physical therapy has made a world of difference,” Lippert says. “I had prayed to regain enough strength to go to the bathroom without assistance, and I’ve achieved that. I’m back in the kitchen cooking. I can dress myself and walk on my own again. Physical therapy has brought back my independence.”

When she goes on excursions outside her condo, she has graduated from using a wheelchair, to a walker and now to a cane. Next week’s goal is to walk unassisted, she says.

Oncology rehabilitation, a service at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute, helps patients regain function lost to cancer and its treatments. Although cancer patients can receive therapy at any of Genesis’ many outpatient rehabilitation clinics, the convenience of having on-site physical, occupational and speech therapy is ideal.

“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, doctors’ appointments and treatments can take over your life,” says Sally Werner, Executive Director of the Cancer Care Institute. “We work to coordinate patients’ outpatient physical rehabilitation and supportive care with their radiation and infusion treatments so they don’t have to travel to multiple sites and appointments.”

Sue Lippert discovered the convenience of having all her cancer care services in one location, particularly on her first day of oncology rehabilitation when she arrived experiencing new and troubling symptoms.

Because of the rehab gym’s close proximity to Lippert’s cancer caregivers, Beuthin immediately called a nurse over to check her patient’s condition. “Sue was having an adverse reaction to being weaned off the steroids she was taking to reduce brain swelling, and, as a result, she was losing function in her arm and leg,” Beuthin says. “Her doctor was contacted, and she was put back on steroids that afternoon.”

Beuthin added, “Sue also was losing strength in her ankle, and I was able to get a prescription from her doctor for an orthotic to help prevent her from falling. American Prosthetic is located on the fourth floor near the Cancer Care Institute, and our patients have had very good success using an orthotic to help with foot drop caused by chemotherapy.”

In just one month, Lippert’s fatigue decreased dramatically. Using a highly recommended outcome measure for fatigue called the Brief Fatigue Inventory, she initially scored 9.11 out of 10 -- with 10 being the highest measure of fatigue.

That fatigue score dropped to 4.22 just four weeks later. Physical therapy also has helped give her greater use of her left arm and leg, which were weakened from surgery to remove her large brain tumor. She was diagnosed with brain cancer last July after experiencing hallucinations, terrible headaches and partial seizures.

Physical rehabilitation not only helps rebuild stamina after fatiguing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, it also greatly improves patients’ attitudes and outlook on life.

“When people come to me and they’ve had falling, weakness or they know their leg isn’t working right, it really affects their sense of independence,” says Beuthin, who is also a certified lymphedema therapist. “By coming to oncology rehabilitation, they strengthen muscles or learn a better technique to help them do functional tasks. They feel better, and this greatly affects their enjoyment of life.”

Throughout her life, Lippert has always been the caregiver as a mother, grandmother and friend. “It’s tough to have the roles reversed and to be dependent on other people,” she says. “I thank God every day for my husband, Blaine, who is very proud of my progress, and the support of my wonderful family and friends."

Who Can Benefit

Cancer patients who can benefit from oncology rehabilitation may have:

•    Recent arm or leg weakness
•    Recent fall or balance problems
•    Lymphedema
•    Difficulty walking
•    Problems swallowing
•    Speech or memory changes
•    Pain
•    Decreased endurance

Services are offered through a physician’s order.

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