Physical rehabilitation includes many services designed to help you
function as normally as possible. Services are provided under the
direction of a physiatrist (a doctor who specializes in
rehabilitation medicine) and are carried out by physical and
occupational therapists, speech pathologists, rehabilitation
counselors, and social workers. You may need one or more of these
services depending on the nature of your disability. You can receive
rehabilitation in the hospital as an inpatient or outpatient or in
your own home.
No one likes the idea of a temporary or permanent disability.
Sometimes people will have to think hard about agreeing to have
treatment that may significantly alter their ability to function. An
amputation is one example. But the trade-off, in many cases, is life.
The availability of rehabilitation makes the decision to accept
aggressive treatment much easier.
HOW REHABILITATION SERVICES CAN HELP
- Physical therapy to reduce edema (swelling) in your arm following
a mastectomy or to regain strength following major surgery.
- Occupational therapy to increase the strength and coordination of
your body or to reevaluate your ability to return to your daily
- Speech therapy to help you regain your ability to communicate
following a laryngectomy.
- Rehabilitation counseling to help you deal with the emotional
impact of your disability.
- Wigs and prostheses if your illness has resulted in hair loss or
loss of a body part.
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE SERVICES?
- Your doctor will refer you to a rehabilitation center or to a
community health agency that provides these services. The
rehabilitation specialists will then evaluate you to determine
how they can help. Without your doctor's referral, your insurance
may not cover the cost of these services.
- Sometimes doctors don't mention rehabilitation since they may not
think about the changes in your life that cancer has produced. If your
doctor does not bring up the subject, ask for a referral, or at least
for an evaluation, so you can be sure you are not missing out on
services that could help you to continue enjoying your life.
- wRehabilitation services should be provided by licensed physical
and occupational therapists and speech pathologists, along with
doctors who are board-certified in rehabilitation medicine. Counseling
services should be provided by specially trained rehabilitation
counselors, social workers, or psychologists. Inpatient services are
provided in specialty rehabilitation hospitals or rehabilitation units
within a teaching or community hospital. These services are also
provided to outpatients who go to these facilities. Physical,
occupational, and speech therapy can also be provided in the home
through a home-health-care agency, which also provides skilled nursing
- Rehabilitation services may also be available through private
practitioners. If you use a private practitioner, he or she may not
necessarily qualify for reimbursement from your insurance company. Ask
your doctor, nurse, or social worker for information about what is
available in your community.
- Not all insurance companies pay for rehabilitation, so it's
important to check your benefits. Sometimes the Office of Vocational
Rehabilitation in Pennsylvania will pay for these services if they
will result in your ability to return to work or to independent
homemaking. Ask your hospital social worker for help if you
are having trouble getting the services covered by insurance. Other
resources may be available to pay for rehabilitation services.
- Remember that after any major change in your body, such as the
loss of physical energy, or a body part, you will probably experience
a period of sadness. This is normal and natural. You will need to
adjust to a new image of yourself, and feelings of sadness are part of
- If you are having trouble adjusting to the physical changes your
cancer treatment has caused, consider seeing a professional counselor.
He or she can help you reevaluate who you are as a person despite the
differences you feel as a result of cancer treatment. A support group
may also be helpful. You and your family deserve to enjoy the benefits
of your cure or long-term control. Don't let emotional stress rob you
and them of the joy of your recovery.
- The American Cancer Society sponsors several rehabilitation
programs. Examples are "Reach to Recovery" for women with breast
cancer and visitation programs for people with ostomies or
laryngectomies. Call your local ACS for more information.
I Wish You Knew
Getting through cancer treatment: tips from an oncology nurse
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