TMH Living Well: Cancer rehab shown to improve outcomes |

TMH Living Well: Cancer rehab shown to improve outcomes

The Memorial Hospital
Zack Johnson, MSPT, PT
Courtesy Photo

After breast cancer surgery, Marie had a large lump under her arm due to a port used to drain fluids. Her doctor told her it would likely be there the rest of her life, and she would just have to live with it. When she balked, he said she could try physical therapy. She opted to do so, and within 12 weeks of therapy the scar tissue went away, along with the pain. It hasn’t returned since. The outcome likely would not have been as good if she hadn’t chosen rehabilitation.

The effects of cancer are not over once the cancer is removed or radiation and chemotherapy treatments end. Often, people are left dealing with the aftereffects of treatments, including scar tissue, compromised muscles, swelling in their arms and legs, numbness, fatigue, weakness, balance issues and even cognitive changes.

A recent study by the Mayo Clinic of cancer patients after treatment revealed that 66 percent were left with some kind of functional impairment. The solution? Cancer rehabilitation. If you know of someone who is going through cancer treatments, advise them to ask their doctor for a referral for cancer rehab. It might make the world of difference.

“Cancer rehabilitation is relatively new, but it is showing promising results,” said Zack Johnson, a physical therapist and The Memorial Hospital’s certified cancer exercise specialist.

TMH is in the process of launching a cancer rehabilitation program, with the support of St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. The program will help cancer patients of all types regain physical and social abilities through physical and occupational therapy.

“We take a whole body approach and offer services before, during and after surgery. Every cancer is unique and every person is unique, so we’ll individualize plans to meet the specific needs of patients,” Johnson said.

Cancer rehabilitation can help fight the fatigue and nausea that’s associated with some cancer treatments. It’s also useful for pain control, as therapists can often get to the root of the pain. Getting care early on is often key to limiting the effects of cancer.

“Research shows that cardiovascular exercise before chemotherapy reduces the effects of some chemotherapy on the heart, keeps the body strong and maximizes the effects of the treatment,” Johnson said.

The same has been shown for surgery and radiation treatments. Cancer rehabilitation can help with range-of-motion problems and nerve damage that can develop from surgeries. Sometimes, muscle weakness occurs due to surgery and retraining muscles is needed for full function. For example, with head and neck cancers patients may need help relearning how to swallow and would benefit from speech therapy.

“Rehabilitation might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear you or a loved one has cancer, and that’s okay. Just as long as it comes to mind at some point,” Johnson said.

For more information on TMH’s cancer rehabilitation services, contact Zack Johnson at 970-824-5992 or email him at or A physician’s referral is needed to receive cancer rehabilitation services. Insurance usually covers some elements of cancer rehabilitation.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig – improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.

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