Long-Term Survivorship Strategies from an Occupational Therapist

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Janice M. Woerner, MS, OTR/L is a nationally registered and New Jersey state licensed Occupational Therapist. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor and author of the children’s book, “Mommy Has Boo Boos on Her Boobies”. She created the Jersey Girl Health and Wealth website to provide patient education and resources for breast cancer survivors, as well, as their friends and family. She is an advocate for pre and post-breast surgery rehabilitation and long-term survivorship. You can contact her at healthyjerseygirl@gmail.com

The road to recovery doesn’t necessarily end when your cancer treatment ends. In fact, many cancer survivors report that they are faced with more challenges after treatment is completed. Struggles include chronic fatigue, personal relationships and finances, along with overall mental health can pop up long after treatment is completed.

Occupational Therapy can be an integral part of a long-term treatment plan to address physical and functional limitations, as well as the psychosocial effects of the cancer journey. While times are different during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are ways to recover in the comfort of your own home.

The following strategies can help with functional and emotional well-being for long-term recovery:

1. Find an online support group: Sharing your story can be therapeutic — try a Facebook group! This is a great way to meet people and you will have the opportunity to read other people’s stories, post questions, comment on other’s posts and expand your comfort level. Giving advice and sharing your journey can be therapeutic in itself. You are a resource for the newly diagnosed. It can feel good to help others.

2. Take a virtual yoga class: Yoga provides a warm and comforting community for anyone who has dealt with trauma. The physicality of yoga is just part of the experience. There are beginner yoga classes to start. This could become your new favorite hobby and who knows, you may even decide you want to become a yoga instructor!

Online Yoga Group Suggestion: https://y4c.com/

3. Treat Yourself: Continue to excite yourself with new products — mastectomy lingerie, loungewear, natural skin products and at home spa treatments. There are even pretty patterns for compression garments, realistic nipple prosthetics and clip-in hair extensions for hair loss.

4. Document Your Journey: Start a journal, maybe even experiment with video journaling if writing does not come naturally. Documenting and sharing your emotions is a great way to see how far you’ve come and what frame of mind you were in during your long-term recovery.

5. Continue to set goals for yourself: In Occupational Therapy, our treatment plans are based on client-centered goals. We encourage setting small, attainable goals so our clients feel successful and are motivated to keep moving forward. It is empowering when you reach a goal. It could be the smallest goal, like attending an exercise class, at least, once a month.

6. Continue connecting with your treatment team: Be an advocate for yourself! Don’t skip check-ups and Screenings. If you’re unable to go in person, perhaps the office is facilitating telemedicine appointments. Keep your records in a binder and bring them to all appointments to ensure all your questions are answered and you are comfortable with your current treatment plan.

7. Appreciate the value of saying “no”: Setting boundaries with people can often take strength. It’s important to remember that you will contribute more to the world if you take care of yourself first. There is no guilt in self-care. Do what makes you happy. Connect with other survivors to cheer you on and focus on your health and wellbeing.

8. Try something new: Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Maybe that’s online salsa class, learning a new language or taking an online class through the local community college.. Be open to new experiences. Keep the mindset of what you went through (look back through your journal) to remember that feeling of appreciating life as you were going through pain.

9. Stretch, Stretch, Stretch: Surgery and radiation can cause scar tissue that lasts for years. Continue to work through breaking up the scar tissue that can limit joint mobility, even between ribs that allow for expansion during breathing.

10. Continue to utilize energy conservation strategies: Listen to your body. When something doesn’t feel right or you have pain, then rest. Plan your day with chores, errands and such that fit your comfort and capability. It’s ok if you need to take a large task and break it down into small parts with rest breaks in between.

The main focus of Occupational Therapy, in any setting, is helping patients problem solve in order to engage in what is meaningful to them. Empowering our patients is our number one priority. Take this time to re-evaluate what is meaningful to you and seek out the guidance of an Occupational Therapist to help you through the obstacles that you are facing from living your life independently and on your terms.

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