For patients with a cancer diagnosis, there is more to coping with the disease than the fight itself. Whether they are going through chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, many patients find that they are unusually tired and, no matter how much rest they get, the exhaustion doesn’t go away.
This common side-effect of cancer or the treatments used to combat it is referred to as cancer-related fatigue. It happens in as many as 75 percent of patients who are actively undergoing treatment. About 25–30 percent of survivors report this same kind of fatigue at some time post-treatment — maybe even as long as two years after their last treatment.
UHS has a New York cancer patient exercise program to help these patients called HOPE (Helping Oncology Patients Exercise). Oncologists and other physicians who work closely with cancer patients use a series of questions to determine if cancer-related fatigue is impacting the patients’ ability to carry out daily activities. Those who feel that fatigue is getting the better of them are then referred to HOPE’s free 12-week exercise program for cancer patients.
Linda Wasser, OT, director of UHS Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, oversees the program.
“HOPE patients work with a registered nurse, exercise physiologist, and physical or occupational therapists to identify and work on their fatigue or any specific medical, nutritional or psychosocial problems related to their diagnosis and treatment,” Ms. Wasser says. For example, mastectomy patients who have difficulty lifting their arms over their heads work on that task in addition to participating in the exercise program for cancer patients that addresses the fatigue.
The HOPE exercise program for cancer patients began as an outpatient therapy service around 2013, but it has recently been revamped by providing clinicians working in the oncology program a better protocol for identifying and referring fatigued patients. In addition, HOPE exercise program services are now part of the health, wellness and rehabilitation services located in Phelps Hall at UHS Binghamton General Hospital for cancer patients across New York's Southern Tier.