Oncology Rehab is Growing, Changing Patients' Lives

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Oncology Rehab is Growing, Changing Patients' Lives

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Mike Wulfekuhle and Kim Lamey, PT, DPT work together during an oncology rehab session.

Finishing radiation or chemotherapy treatments is a remarkable milestone for any cancer patient. 

The goal of cancer treatment is to kill cancer cells, while preserving healthy tissue. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for cancer patients to experience functional deficits, whether from the disease process itself or from their life-saving treatments. These side effects can last far beyond completion of cancer treatments.

At UnityPoint Health - Finley Hospital, multiple therapists are uniquely equipped to help cancer patients recover function and improve quality of life, while undergoing or after completing cancer treatment. 

Kim Lamey, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Finley Asbury Square Outpatient Rehabilitation Services, was the first in the state of Iowa to become certified through the Physiological Oncology Rehabilitation Institute (PORi) in Chemotoxicity and Exercise Prescription. Now, oncology rehabilitation  certified therapists provide services to patients at the Asbury Square and Westmark therapy locations or while an inpatient at Finley Hospital. 

"It's amazing to have a whole team of oncology rehab therapists at Finley," Lamey said. "At Finley, we are able to comprehensively treat patients on the continuum of care - from the hospital setting to our outpatient clinics."

The oncology rehab team at Finley, Dubuque's cancer hospital, helps alleviate a variety of cancer-related conditions. Some common side effects of cancer's disease progression and/or treatment side effects include restricted range of motion, joint stiffness, cancer-related fatigue, weakness, decline in balance, pelvic floor dysfunction, difficulty walking, chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (numbness/tingling), scar restrictions/fibrosis, impaired neck and jaw mobility and/or difficulty with daily tasks and mobility (endurance). 

Lamey said it is important for all cancer patients to know that they may not have to live with the side effects of their treatment forever. 

Help may be just a doctor's order away. 

"If a patient is currently undergoing cancer treatment and notices side effects, it is important to discuss them with their oncologist and inquire about an order for oncology rehab," Lamey said. "If you have already completed y our cancer treatments and don't have a schedule follow-up with your oncologist, discuss your concerns with your primary care provider and also inquire about oncology rehab. Once patients have an order, they are able to start scheduling therapy appointments to get the help they may need."

From Lamey's perspective, it's an important field of work that UnityPoint Health has begun to make a priority. With the Wendt Regional Cancer Center being a leader in cancer care in Dubuque and the Tri-States, Lamey and her team are proud to offer oncology rehabilitation as a way to fight back against cancer. 

"This really is a specialty," Lamey said. "There are an estimated 15.5 million cancer survivors in the United States. The medical community, as a whole, is just starting to recognize the importance of recovery of function in this patient population. I think we will see huge growth across the country in oncology rehab over the next several years. I think it's really great that we've already made it a priority and that we have several trained therapists. Our oncology rehab program really fills a vital need in our community."

It's important to the patient's well-being, especially after overcoming cancer. 

"As survivorship of cancer has increased greatly over the last decade in the United States, it has become apparent there is a disconnect in the continuum of care," Lamey said. "The oncologists do a great job of treating and managing the cancer. Let's also work on managing the side effects, so patients can have an excellent quality of life during and after treatment."