Rehabilitation team members

Knowing where to turn when you need help can be a challenge. During the course of treatment, you may work with many different professionals and it can be difficult to know who the most appropriate person is to contact about a concern.

You can start rehabilitation at any stage – whether you have just been diagnosed, finished treatment or are receiving palliative care. Below you will find a list of some of the team members you may encounter during your rehabilitation. You may be involved with various team members at different stages of your journey.

The “Survivor”
There are many different ways to refer to an individual receiving, or having received, treatment – survivor, patient, client, and so on. Whichever you prefer, this person is the most important in the rehabilitation process after cancer treatment. No two people undergoing treatment for cancer will have the same experience, so it is key to be an active participant in the rehabilitation process. Living with the side-effects of cancer treatment, can often be effectively self-managed with minimal training (1).

Family/Friends
Those who have a support system around them, tend to do better when recovering from an illness. This support team may be as small as you and a partner, or as big as an entire community. Whichever the case, leaning on others for support can lessen the individual burden after cancer treatment.

Medical Team
The medical team is a broad group and may include different medical specialists such as a Surgeon, Medical Oncologist (chemotherapy doctor), Radiation Oncologist, Nurse, Nurse Practitioner (NP), Physiatrist (rehabilitation doctor). These professionals perform examinations, review scans, order blood-work, and prescribe medications. Someone from this team may need to provide medical clearance before the survivor initiates any type of rehabilitation program. When in doubt, just ask!

Physiotherapist
Physiotherapists (PTs) with training in cancer rehabilitation can help you safely start or modify a general exercise program, show you stretches to reduce tightness after radiation or surgery, and assist with regaining your overall mobility.

Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists(OTs), define an occupation as everything that people do during the course of everyday life (2). An OT will work with you to improve your ability to accomplish these activities. An OT may prescribe adaptive equipment such as a reaching device, provide strategies to manage memory or thinking problems, or assist with developing a return-to-work plan.

Speech Language Pathologist
Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs), work closely with patients undergoing treatment for head and neck cancer, due to the high incidence of swallowing, feeding, and communication problems in this population. An SLP can assess your swallowing, make recommendations on diet texture and feeding strategies, and work with you to improve your ability to communicate (3).

Audiologist
Audiologists assess and treat disorders of hearing and balance. They can help with hearing loss, ringing in the ears, or balance issues caused by damage to the inner ear(4).

Dietitian
A registered dietitian (RD), helps to create personalized nutrition plans that improve your intake and manage side-effects such as a reduced sense of taste, sore and dry mouth, impaired ability to chew and weight loss. RDs also assist with safe transitioning from tube feeding to eating by mouth after treatment.

Social Work
Social workers (SWs), can provide support with social issues such as finding community support programs or financial assistance. They can also provide counselling if you, or a family member, are having difficulty coping with your illness.

Registered Massage Therapist
A Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) can help ease tight muscles, release scars after surgery, or assist with general relaxation massage. RMT’s with Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT) training also perform a special type of massage for swelling (lymphedema) that may result after having your lymph nodes removed or irradiated.

(1) McCorkle, R., Ercolano, E., Lazenby, M., Schulman-Green, D., Schilling, L. S., Lorig, K., & Wagner, E.H. (2011). Self-Management: Enabling and empowering patient living with cancer as a chronic illness. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 61(1). 50-62. doi:10.3322/caac.20093
(2) Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. (n.d.) Occupational Therapy – As defined by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.  Retrieved from http://www.caot.ca/default.asp?pageid=3824
(3) Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (n.d.a) What is a Speech-Language Pathologist? Retrieved from https://www.osla.on.ca/en/SpeechLanguagePathologist?mid=ctl00_LeftMenu_ctl00_TheMenu-menuItem000
(4) Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (n.d.b) What is an Audiologist? Retrieved from https://www.osla.on.ca/en/Audiologist?mid=ctl00_LeftMenu_ctl00_TheMenu-menuItem000