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How Rehabilitation Services helps our cancer patients

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Rehab_Walker_008_master.jpgBy Lindsay Lewis

When Susanne Stanley started working at MD Anderson nearly two years ago, she never imagined the challenges associated with cancer recovery.

For many patients, recovering from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation -- or some combination of the three -- is a long and difficult process, says Stanley, an occupational therapist in Rehabilitation Services.

"Our job is to help patients function again, and find the strength and motivation to resume their lives."

Helping patients return to daily living
Stanley is one of more than 100 clinical professionals and support staff that make up Rehabilitation Services, which offers physical and occupational therapy to more than 10,000 inpatients and outpatients a year.

While physical therapists focus on improving mobility, muscular strength and balance deficits, occupational therapists help patients return to activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and cooking. In fact, there's a fully furnished kitchen built into the main rehabilitation clinic, giving patients a chance to practice preparing meals.

"Our mission is to improve the quality of life for people impacted by cancer," says Brent Braveman, director of Rehabilitation Services. "We not only provide these kinds of therapy interventions for patients, but also we train and educate family and caregivers to help support their loved ones once they get back home."

Positive reinforcement makes a difference
As a physical therapist, Rhodora Fontillas provides motivation to help patients improve their mobility.

"We ask patients what one thing they'd like to be able to do again," she says. "Some patients want to be able to walk four blocks, while others want to be able to carry their grandkids. Everyone has something that's important to them, and we motivate them through therapy to achieve these goals."

Our physical and occupational therapists both focus on designing individual therapies that involve a small series of movements. Though cumbersome, these sequences help patients regain their mobility, moving them along the road to recovery.

To do that takes a great amount of positive reinforcement, Fontillas says.

"Recovery often is slow, and our patients get frustrated," she says. "But we constantly remind them how far they've come and encourage them to keep working on it."

Stanley agrees that coaching and positivity from the therapists make a big difference during a patient's recovery.

"I like to share success stories with our patients to encourage and show them what's possible through modern advances in rehabilitation and prosthetics," she says. "It's amazing to see patients who've lost limbs try golfing again or join a wheelchair basketball team. We're proud to see them excel."

A longer version of this blog post originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly publication for employees.

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