I’m an Occupational therapist. After 5 years of college and earning a Masters degree, I’ve worked the past 3 years in acute care hospitals on many different levels from trauma and ICU, orthopedics, med surgical, pediatrics, cardiology, and oncology! When I think about what can an OT do for me now that I have cancer… My first reaction is nothing. I typically see the sickest of the sick once their admitted to the hospital, but quite frankly, If an OT was sent to me, i’d tell them to leave. (Bye Felicia)
Or do I really need an OT in my life? Is my inner OT becoming jealous? What is the role of OT in oncology?
From morning aches that make my body feel like it were hit by a Mack truck, days of non stop nausea, and nights of sleepless nonsense running through my head, where has my perfectly “aligned” life gone. I am a huge fan of a model I learned in OT school known as the PEO (person, environment, occupation) Model. This model in a snip it takes a person, their environment in which they live or are surrounded, and the “occupations” or things that make a person who they are… Like interests or hobbies. It then draws the circles that interlap… When something is knocked off balance ie: by cancer, their “PEO fit” or the area where all three circles align is thrown off, thus “occupational dysfunction” occurs.
Okay, I’m not going to bring you back to my college days… But I think I’m on to something here! I, Meghan Franz am currently dysfunctional! OMG!
OT friends help me out here as I explain.
- Exhaustion- they told me I’d be more tired… Well you can say that again! I never ever ever thought I could possibly sleep for 22 hours in 1 day! Oh ya, that happened! That is far too much sleep for one human being. I know my body is tired and fighting a whole lot. It’s like having its own war! However, Mulan and the Huns did indeed rest in between battles even aside from the random avalanches (Disney reference). All I’m saying is rest is good to a point! I need to bring out my good ole activity configuration… I need a schedule, please find me an OT and quick!!!
- Fatigue- the first time I noticed my energy decreasing was when I was vacuuming my couch. Many of you may know I have a 7-month-old yellow lab, whom sheds like a bear! I being the neat freak I am, vacuums almost daily! I was vacuuming one day and needed to take breaks because I was getting over heated and my arms were tired. Wow! I actually had to pace my self, rest and use energy conservation! Say what!!!! I never ever thought people actually listened when I educated about seated rests! I even use a stool when I do dishes. Question is… Was it instinct? Or is my brain just oozing with OT tricks of the trade that I instinctively knew to use those techniques? Hmnnn….
- ADLs- what the heck is that? A new chemo medication? NO. A diet? NO! Just those daily things we OTs like to call Activities of Daily Living. The bathing, dressing, brushing your teeth or grooming type things. I won’t get all technical by introducing IADLs or instrumental activities of daily living like cooking, cleaning, or having sex! But… Let me tell you! I’ve become a lazy bum! Chemo kicks butt, but… It also makes you exhausted therefore getting dressed or putting on makeup is even exhausting! I’m convinced God makes you lose your hair through chemo because if I had my hair it would be one more thing to do and I just wouldn’t have the energy. I hate to admit this but there’s been weeks I’ve worn the same PJs for days— ew! Or days I’ve thrown a beanie on and no makeup (OMG just no!) this is chemo reality. And i go out like that… Don’t judge me👊🏻. My family comes over and begs to help with the cleaning and stuff around the house… It just kills me to accept the help truthfully. (I’m also a brat and like things done a certain way). It is encouraging that there are services for breast cancer patients to help with these things because literally just by putting a load of laundry in I need a nap! I feel like this is such a huge area that we OTs can make an impact in for on oncology patients…any OT friends need some per diem;)
- Cognition- okay this is very hard for me to admit. When I first started chemo the nurses warned me of ” chemo brain” sounded contagious but come on, really what else could I contract?! Oh, that’s just it! Chemo Brain! It comes when you least expect it… But if you thought I was ditzy before… Spend a day with me now! Okay so they say this is all reversible and OT friends if you try to MOCA or ACL me, I’ve been practicing for this specific reason;) It’s crazy though. For thanksgiving i was baking with johns cousin and simply wanted to double a recipe. I couldn’t figure it out. I started crying but my brain wasn’t making the connections. I cannot keep track my medications for the life of me, and i get lost driving very easily. They call it chemo brain:( any cognitive strategies for these above issues aside from med lists and memory games message me please! 😉
- Coping skills- if anyone has every said that having any kind of cancer is easier over another, they were a big fat LIAR! Its not that HAVING cancer that is the hard part, because frankly before you’re diagnosed who knows how long the “cancer” has actually been in your body. It’s the God-awful treatments and physical changes that a patient goes through that is that hardest part. My sisters, dad and I went to Olive Garden for lunch one visit and I was having really bad hot flashes so I went bald. As we were walking out of the restaurant my sister asks me, “do people stare at you like that all the time”, truth is YES! Without a wig or hat people are constantly judging or at least wondering about my baldness, and it sucks! When I go to the mall and people ask me if they can pray for me, that’s kind but please stop putting hands on me right then and there… Like that is embarrassing! Kind gesture for sure, but come on people. I am neither the first nor the last bald girl to walk the planet! For me, my blog has become a positive coping mechanism. I am able to write what I feel and help other people in a similar position as me! So, journaling aside… I just chose to make mine public;)
- Work balance- The day I got an appointment with my PCP and asked my boss to leave work early because I found a lump in my breast and just wanted to get it looked at all the way back in October was the last day I was able to work. It kills me because I love my job, I love my patients, and i love the team I work with! From gazillion appointments to the effects of treatment, it is near impossible right now for me to have the energy to treat people that are sick when I am sick myself! We aren’t talking going to work with a cold here… Literally me working in a hospital whether I be on the orthopedic floor, general medical surgical, cardiac, or oncology unit, right now it can be detrimental to my entire recovery. My white blood cells are affected by the chemo, if I work in a hospital and pick up the tiniest of bugs… I can find myself in the hospital. At 26 years young, this is extremely hard to wrap my brain around. I’ve caught myself saying “my education is a waste”, “ill never work again”… Truth is, I will… I just have to have patience and realize this is TEMPORARY!
With that all being said, whether it be the “cancer” or the treatments, it affects a person as a whole! The things that used to be just part of my normal routine are completely affected and the truth is, right now there isn’t much I can do about that. Change is all part of this whole recovery process. From the physical to emotional parts, a person is affected on all levels of everyday life. OT’s have the skills to see a patient with cancer as 1. An individual but also 2. A human being! Patients with cancer still have things that are so meaningful in our lives… We just have to alter the way we do things to enjoy life just the same as before! We aren’t just bald little aliens who were dealt an unlucky card! I am still Meghan, I am still 26 years old… And I am still an Occupational therapist!
Photography by: Sasha Danielle Photography