Cancer Rehab Programs – do they work and are they worth it?

Cancer Rehabilitation Programs work.  I went into cancer rehab kicking and screaming, but now I am thankful that I have devoted the time, energy and dedication it takes to participate in the rehab program.

Cancer Rehab is a rather new field at many hospitals.  Since there are more and more cancer survivors, hospitals have realized that cancer survivors feel abandoned after over a year of intense treatment to suddenly be thrust aside and on your own. For years there have been rehab programs for heart patients, stroke patients, and just about any other kind of rehab.  Many cancer patients have debilitating side effects.  Prematurely they often decide that this is the way it is going to be.

In my case, since I already had Lymphedema in one arm and was receiving treatment, I thought I would have to live with the very limited range of motion I had in that arm as a result of Mastectomy, Chemo and Radiation in addition to many other side effects.

My local hospitals, the Mercy Health Systems in Toledo, Ohio, recently became affiliated with the STAR Program which is a program from Oncology Rehab Partners.  It was developed by Julie Silver, M.D., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, who is a cancer survivor.  A year after cancer treatment ended, Dr. Silver then in her 30s,  realized that cancer survivors needed help to heal.   Here you can find out if there is a STAR Program certified hospital near you:    My Lymphedema Specialist talked me into being a guinea pig for the program – I am Patient #2 at my local hospital.

My course of treatment has been Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy based which has been a tremendous help to me.  Not only has my arm improved by 75%, my body pain has lessened, my fatigue has greatly diminished, and I feel more prepared to handle the stresses of daily life post cancer.   This has taken commitment on my part.   There are other elements to the STAR Program which are done at home like exercises, writing down fatigue levels,  monitoring your diet, and more out-patient hospital treatment.

If you are a Cancer Survivor or Cancer Patient, I would advise you to seek out a good Cancer Rehab Program.  Don’t wait until your Oncologist or physician tell you to, because they may not.  Often, they overlook that aspect of treatment.  You have to be willing to dedicate the time and effort it takes to do the work. But remember, it is worth it.

I had six months after active treatment ended before I started the Cancer Rehab Program.  I needed that six months to have the stamina to face more challenges.  Everyone is different.  Know what is the appropriate time for you before you start rehab.  For some people that might be immediately after active treatment ends.  For others, it may be longer.

Most insurances will pay for Cancer Rehab, but check with them before you start any program.  My insurance pays for 20 Physical Therapy visits and 20 Occupational Therapy visits per year.


  1. You are such an Angel–YOU just answered a question I had asked my surgeon just yesterday. THANK YOU–THANK YOU!! May God continue to Bless YOU and we all appreciate your knowledge and compassion for those of us going through this terrible disease–the aftermath is worse then the diagnosis!!! Now I have an answer 🙂

  2. Denise – what a wonderful and helpful post.  Can’t help thinking of all the people out there that you are helping through your research and straight-forward writing ability.  You are a blessing to so many.


  3. Good for you-75% improvement in your arm is amazing. I did get physical therapy throughout radiation (insurance covered) to learn lymphatic massage to prevent lymphedema. It was so helpful and greatly reduced my stress over the fear if this should happen. Great suggestion. I will see if my hospital has the Star program.

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