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!