Life after cancer
As soon as the fight against cancer is won, there begins a new journey of life. However, in most cases this process is not quick or easy. There can be left over side effects (both mental and physical) from the treatment and the disease itself. Cancer rehabilitation generally involves helping an individual obtain maximum physical, social, psycho-social and vocational functioning within the limits imposed by the disease and its treatment.
Rehabilitation goals are;
Owing to the potentially progressive nature of cancer, the outcomes depend upon timely recognition of functional problems and prompt referral for treatment. In-spite of that, someone living with cancer or its after-effects can still improve their quality of life.
This article will focus on common after-effects (fatigue, generalized weight lost, reduced activity levels, etc.) that limit a person’s quality of life:
- Fatigue: The causes of fatigue that are specifically related to cancer have not been determined. It is a complex symptom with various overlapping causes, some of which include anemia, pain, sleep disturbance, thyroid dysfunction, and mood disorders. Physiotherapists can help manage fatigue through a focused assessment that will determine the contributing factors in each individual. Their treatment may then include:
- Teaching the importance of planning and pacing your day
- Designing a graduated exercise program to increase strength and energy levels
- Referring as soon as possible to the physician if the cause of the fatigue requires further investigation.
- Pain: Survivors can experience different levels of pain from chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or other cancer treatments. There are many ways to reduce or eliminate chronic pain. A physiotherapist will help advise on the best treatments to manage pain for each person’s individual condition. If your pain is moderate to severe, you may need medication or further treatment. If your pain is less severe, you can try some other modalities to make you more comfortable:
- hot or cold packs
- breathing exercises
- relaxation exercises
- Incontinence: Most survivors dealing with urinary incontinence may have had prostate cancer, but there are many other diagnoses that can cause incontinence or even pain in the pelvic region. Physiotherapists can assist in relief of these symptoms through a process that may include hands on techniques, exercises, or other modalities. The following are all different types of incontinence a person may experience:
- Stress incontinence: Can cause a person to leak urine during activities such as coughing, laughing, sneezing, or exercising.
- Overflow incontinence: A dribbling stream of urine that happens involuntarily when the bladder is full.
- Urge incontinence: Having to urinate frequently with an urgent need to urinate. There is a need to reach a restroom quickly to prevent leaking.
- Continuous incontinence:Not being able to control the bladder at all, losing a large amount of urine for no apparent reason.
- Osteoporosis: It’s common for bones to become brittle as you age. Cancer patients and survivors are especially at risk.This is because various treatments for cancer can cause your bones to become thinner, weaker, more fragile and more brittle. Prescribed specific medicines and active participation in physiotherapy to strengthen and support your bones and lessen your risk of fractures as been said to be of great benefit.
- Sexuality: Certain cancer treatments directly affect the body’s sexual organs or hormone balance. However, any cancer treatment can reduce your interest in sex. You may feel tired and unwell, or you may be too worried to think about sex. You might also feel less attractive or confident about your body. A low sex drive (libido) can also be a symptom of depression. Libido often improves after treatment finishes, but for some people the effect is ongoing.
- Cognitive problems: After a diagnosis of cancer, some do notice changes in the way they think and remember information. This is often called “chemo brain”, which can happen even if you don’t have chemotherapy. It is also known as “cancer fog” or “cancer related cognitive impairment”. These are temporary and get better with time, but can have a big impact on your emotional well-being.
Benefits of exercise in cancer survivors
Exercise has many general benefits for your physical and mental well-being. Many studies have reported that exercising during cancer treatments helps you feel a lot better. Exercise therapy will:
- Strengthen muscles and bones
- Help cope with stress, anxiety and depression
- Reduce pain
- Maintain or achieve a healthy weight
- Help improve your energy levels
- Improve appearance and self-esteem
- Provide new opportunities to meet people and socialize