Today we hear more from Susannah Haarmann, PT, WCS, CLT about how pelvic rehabilitation practitioners are suited to contribute to a breast oncology patient's medical team. Susannah will be sharing more insights and treatment tools at the Rehabilitation for the Breast Cancer Patient course taking place June 27-28 in Maywood, IL.
Most pelvic rehab practitioners are incredible problem solvers and independent thinkers. We understand that often our referrals from a physician occur after a battery of tests and ineffective medical interventions. We may agree to treat a patient only to find that the diagnosis is vague and the patient often feels lost and broken. So we take out our sleuth caps, ask as many subjective questions as it takes and see where our objective examination leads us. Afterwards we paint a picture of our findings, focus the patient on what is working, tell them where we are going to start and how we are going to build one brick at a time.
The same is true for rehabilitation and breast oncology. Most physicians don’t understand how our work as therapists can complement and alleviate the side effects of mainstream medical intervention, but when the pain medication no longer works, we are there. When the range of motion no longer exists to get the patient’s arm into a cradle for breast radiation, we are there. And when the patient walks in our door, we are there, quite often for a period of time that extends well beyond after treatments cease, because the potential side effects of breast cancer, if they occur, may take years or even decades to show up. The rehab practitioner understands how to prepare the patient, without fear, for what the road ahead may look like. The purpose of this education is to empower patients to serve as their own best advocates. Pelvic practitioners and breast oncology specialists are noted for their exceptional manual skills. We are also versed to pounding the pavement educating physicians, patients and other therapists alike about who we can serve and how we can be of service. We are definitely a unique breed of therapists.
The Rehabilitation for the Breast Cancer Patient course will add to the pelvic rehab practitioner's current knowledge allowing them to become a specialist. Consider the following:
A therapist understands the biomechanics of a shoulder joint and function, but do they understand how the effects of radiation, reconstruction procedures and impairments in the lymphatic system as a side effect of cancer treatment might prevent optimal upper extremity function?
A therapist may understand peripheral neuropathy and balance training or osteoporosis and aging, however, do they understand which chemotherapeutic and hormone therapies may cause these side effects and how the prognosis may differ depending upon which medical intervention was used?
A therapist may commonly treat back pain, but do they understand how a plan of care might be altered to accommodate for a patient who experienced a TRAM flap or latissimus dorsi reconstruction?
A therapist may be able to initiate a post-operative rotator cuff strengthening program for the upper extremity, but if the patient has a history of lymphedema, how do these parameters change?
A therapist may have advanced manual therapy skills, but how might one use these skills to identify and treat lymphatic cording or set safe parameters for working around radiated tissue to restore optimal function?
These are just a few of many examples of what constitutes a specialist in the field of breast oncology and each of these questions and more will be covered in detail in the course Rehabilitation for the Breast Cancer Patient.
Today we hear from Susannah Haarmann, the instructor for Rehabilitation for the Breast Cancer Patient. If you want to learn how to implement your pelvic rehab training with breast oncology patients, join Susannah in Maywood, IL on June 27th and 28th.
Effective pelvic rehab practitioners demonstrate many skills which are especially suitable to treat people with breast cancer, however, the first idea that comes to mind is that they understand what my friend refers to as, ‘the bikini principle.’ She remarked this week that I treat the ‘no no’ areas; the private places that we rarely share…with anyone. The reproductive regions of the pelvis and chest wall both consciously and subconsciously are associated with a plethora of personal psychological and social connotations. A pelvic health practitioner has a raised level of sensitivity to working with this patient population; there is no true protocol in this line of work, effective treatment will require a deeper level of listening and being present with the patient, and a person’s healing of the pelvic region is likely to go beyond the physiologic realm.
The biopsychosocial model of treatment is especially pertinent to the pelvic and breast oncology specialties. The breasts have great biological importance for sexual reproduction and nurturing offspring. Psychologically, breasts represent femininity for many women (and imagine how the story would change for a male with breast cancer.) Furthermore, different societies tend to create a host of rules and guidelines about what is ‘breast appropriate.’ The rehab practitioner understands that a person’s perceptions of their breasts are unlike any others and the same holds true for their cancer journey and goals with therapy.
The pelvic practitioner understands the importance of a straight face; if you have been in the field long enough something completely surprising is bound to occur, but in the day in the life of a pelvic rehab practitioner, no matter how shocking, we’ve seen it before, right? The breast oncology practitioner is going to visualize radiation burns that make their own chest wall hurt upon seeing it. Practitioners will encounter the most frustrating of severe functional deficits that could have been easily avoided had there been the opportunity for earlier intervention. The rehab practitioner providing breast oncologic care understands the story is complex, the road may be long, and although our role revolves around the body, the side effects of our treatment may have much greater reward beyond just physical function.
Patients who suffer severe bladder damage or bladder disease such as invasive cancer may have the entire bladder removed in a cystectomy procedure. Once the bladder is removed, a surgeon can use a portion of the patient's ileum (the final part of the small intestines) or other part of the intestine to create a pouch or reservoir to hold urine. This procedure can be done using an open surgical approach or a laparoscopic approach. Once this new pouch is attached to the ureters and to the urethra, the "new bladder" can fill and stretch to accommodate the urine. As the neobladder cannot contract, a person will use abdominal muscle contractions along with pelvic floor relaxation to empty. If a person cannot empty the bladder adequately, a catheter may need to be utilized. (A prior blog post reported on potential complications of and resources for learning about neobladder surgery.)
During the recovery from surgery, patients will wear a catheter for a few weeks while the tissues heal. Once the catheter has been removed, patients may be instructed to urinate every 2 hours, both during the day and at night. Because patients will not have the same neurological supply to alert them of bladder filling, it will be necessary to void on a timed schedule. The time between voids can be lengthened to every 3-4 hours. Night time emptying may still occur up to two times/evening. Patient recommendations following the procedure may include that patients drink plenty of fluids, eat a healthy diet, and gradually return to normal activities. Adequate fluid is important in helping to flush mucous that is in the urine. This mucous is caused by the bowel tissue used to create the neobladder, and will reduce over time.
Urinary leakage is more common at night in patients who have had the procedure, and this often improves over a period of time, even a year or two after the surgery. As pelvic rehabilitation providers, we may be offering education about healthy diet and fluid intake, pelvic and abdominal muscle health and coordination, function retraining and instruction in return to activities. In addition to having gone through a major surgical procedure, patients may also have experienced a period of radiation, other treatments, or debility that may limit their activity levels. The Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute is pleased to offer courses by faculty member Michelle Lyons in Oncology and the Pelvic Floor, Part A: Female Reproductive and Gynecologic Cancers, and Part B: Male Reproductive, Bladder, and Colorectal Cancers. If you would like to explore pelvic rehabilitation in relation to oncology issues, there is still time to register for the Part A course taking place in Torrance, California in May! If you would like to host either of these courses at your facility, let us know!