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Why you should see an Oncology Physiotherapist before you start cancer treatment

As an oncology physiotherapist, of course I am advocate for everyone having one of me as part of the healthcare team after a diagnosis of cancer. I often see people once they have already developed adverse treatment side effects, later on once their treatment is finished. But how wonderful would it be if we could help you prevent and better manage those side effects and help guide you through each stage of your cancer treatment and recovery!

Here are 5 reasons why you should see an oncology physiotherapist immediately after a cancer diagnosis, even before starting treatment (I could have done at least 20 reasons, but lets start with 5!)

  1. Help you be prepared for what is the next steps will be

Your physiotherapist has time to sit with you and work through any concerns you have. They provide support and education on what to to expect for your upcoming treatment whether that be surgery or chemotherapy. There might be further investigations, scans, blood tests, port insertions, decisions to be made about single or double mastectomy, immediate or delayed reconstruction and the list goes on. Your physical therapist can help you navigate the crazy, uncharted waters and be there to listen - it can sometimes be easier to openly share with us than with family and friends.

2. Commence an exercise program

Now many of you will be thinking that exercise would be the last thing on your mind when diagnosed with cancer. Especially when we think of cancer and how unwell the treatment will make you. But, hear me out ok, the stronger and healthier you are the more likely you are to tolerate your treatment and have a quicker recovery. Even a few weeks of physical activity prior to treatment commencing can make a big difference, even if you have not been physically active previously. It is very common for people to be quite upset if they have to miss a treatment because they are unable to tolerate their treatment, and this is understandable as everyone wants to ensure that they are given the best chance at beating their cancer. So exercise is just another way you can give your body the best chance at tolerating your treatment and ensuring your recovery is quicker. An oncology physiotherapist can give you an exercise program that can easily be adjusted to how you feel, so make it easier if you are unwell once starting treatment and progress it to make it harder once you are starting to recover.

3. Helpful hints and tips to make the post-op period easier

Physiotherapists will be your best source of helpful hints and tips to ensure you are ready to tackle your post-op recovery. Unfortunately some people get discharged from hospital without seeing physiotherapist so are left to try and figure it out on their own.We are full of knowledge on pain management, sleeping positions, gentle exercises, scar management and much more that will make your recovery much more tolerable and see improvements quicker.

4. Take baseline measures

It helps to have a record of your baseline health so we can know when things have changed, for the better or worse. This is extremely important if you will be at risk of certain side effects like cording/AWS and lymphoedema post treatment. Baseline measures of your arm circumference, body weight, strength, fitness and range of motion can help us identify if there is an ongoing problem or if we have't quite got to your pre-treatment levels. This can be important when trying to regain shoulder movement after breast surgery, when determining if there is oedema present after lymph node removal or understanding why you now find it difficult to climb stairs.

5. Become part of your support network

An experienced oncology physiotherapist will become part of your cheer squad and advocate for you. They will cry and laugh with you and make sure they do everything they can to get you through your treatment. We will likely see you more than your oncologists, so we get to know you and how you are coping pretty well throughout your treatment and recovery. I have had many patients cry during our sessions or share things with me that they haven't told anyone else, this lets me know that I am doing my job well. We aim to create a safe space for each and every one of our patients and be your advocate at times when you have just had enough.

Trust me, you will not regret insisting that you get a referral to an oncology physiotherapist after diagnosis! I would love to hear if you have an oncology physiotherapist as part of your healthcare team and your thoughts about how it has impacted your cancer journey.

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