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Therapy Before Cancer Treatment May Boost Outcomes

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - Campus News -

Most of us have heard of rehabilitation following surgery or a hospital stay, but what about pre-habilitation?

It’s still physical therapy, but with a twist in timing. Specialists at the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center have seen the difference it can make; and Sam De La Rosa of Yukon has too. He will tell you pre-habilitation has been the secret to his success as he works to beat cancer and live life to its fullest.

De La Rosa, 65, has had to work hard to get stronger. He has multiple myeloma, a cancer that affects the part of the blood known as plasma. Just months ago, he couldn’t take even a few steps without assistance.

“I had problems with my muscles on my calves and I couldn’t really stand up and walk a distance. I walked a little bit but I had to hold on to the counter, whatever I could hold on to, to be able to walk a little bit,” he said.

Part of the issue was neuropathy in De La Rosa’s feet which was both diabetic and chemotherapy-induced. De La Rosa was also weak, so weak that he was not considered a good candidate for stem cell transplantation, his best chance at beating his cancer.

“When Sam first came in he was in a wheelchair and he was walking some with a walker and he was pretty down,” said Vicky Davidson, a physical therapist at the Stephenson Cancer Center.

Getting stronger started with a referral to the Cancer Center’s pre-habilitation program.  Unlike rehabilitation which typically follows a surgery or medical procedure, pre-habilitation happens beforehand.

“The idea is that you are going to go into a surgery or a chemotherapy treatment and you are going to get hit a little bit functionally. So we work to help build you up beforehand. If you go in as strong as possible, you are likely to have a better outcome. It’s about building your functional reserve or having your glass as full as it can be going in,” said Elizabeth Hile, P.T., Ph.D., director of the Cancer Rehabilitation Science Program and assistant professor at the OU College of Allied Health.  

De La Rosa had two goals for his pre-habilitation. He wanted to get strong enough to have his stem cell transplant and also to take a family vacation at the beach.  

“Anything we asked of him, he was willing to try.  He just kept getting stronger and stronger,” Davidson said.
It’s the kind of improvement that really helps patients in their fight against cancer.

“So the healthier we can keep people, the stronger we can keep people, the more mobile we can keep people, it just improves their quality of life and it also can improve their cancer outcomes ultimately,” Hile said.

Therapists at the Stephenson Cancer Center plan to conduct research soon to determine if as little as three weeks of pre-habilitation  prior to surgery or chemotherapy can make a difference in outcomes for cancer patients. 

For De La Rosa, it took only a matter of weeks for him to show dramatic improvement. The wheelchair was no longer needed. No need for a walker either. De La Rosa was able to walk on his own with just a cane for reassurance. He took that family vacation. Upon his return, he got back to work in pre-hab to gain more strength in preparation for his stem cell transplant; and for a man who lives on a road aptly named Hope, hope has been restored. 

“You need to have someone support you and be behind you.  If you don’t have those people to help you get stronger you’re just going to give up and I’m not a giver- upper,” De La Rosa said with a smile.

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