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East Kootenay massage therapist raises awareness of post-cancer therapy

Robyn Lancaster says people recovering from cancer lack adequate support services
Robyn Lancaster, owner of Wild Wind Registered Massage Therapy, thinks there currently aren’t enough local services to support cancer patients post surgery or treatment (Photo by Gillian Francis)

A Marysville massage therapist has added cancer patients to her clientele after discovering that local rehabilitation services are hard to come by.

Robyn Lancaster, owner of Wild Wind Registered Massage Therapy, has been helping cancer patients recover and manage pain after complications from surgery and treatment. Many of her clients have dead or scar tissue, or suffer from conditions like lymphedema. Some have difficulty with range of motion or need help physically preparing for an operation.

Her business operates out of Creekside Physiotherapy.

Lancaster said that her clients often suffer from complications related to surgery or treatment.

“I have women who are decades past their surgery and they come to work on scars that are causing them issues,” she said.

“I’ve had clients come to me in a state where they were in pain and they were unable to wash their hair, and I’ve been able to move them past that point.”

While the work is rewarding, Lancaster said that if they’d found help earlier, their issues would likely not be as severe.

“If I had been able to get to them sooner, we would have been able to get a lot further, faster,” she added.

Medical studies have shown that complication rates are generally quite high for cancer survivors post-surgery.

An Italian study published in 2018, found that rates of auxiliary web syndrome (AWS) were as high as 51.1 per cent among 370 surveyed patients who had undergone surgical procedures for breast cancer. AWS is a condition that often appears in the weeks following surgery, and leads to pain and restricted motion in the upper limbs. According to Lancaster, young women with a low body mass index, who have a sizeable number of lymph nodes removed, are at particular risk for developing this condition.

Lancaster never suspected that cancer treatment could lead to severe long-term complications, until she asked colleagues from the Cranbrook Wound Clinic about their patients. The wound clinic often sees people who have dead body tissue from radiation.

“They were seeing quite a few people with complications post surgery,” she said.

Further research showed her that there weren’t very many services for people in the area to help with rehabilitation.

“I started to look into it. I started looking into how many resources we had in the area and saw that it was a desert and that broke my heart,” she added.

“When it was something that I could bridge the gap for people, I was like ‘ok well I think I have to do this.’”

Lancaster said that follow-up care post surgery or treatment is critical in helping cancer patients recover, particularly in helping them understand how much weight they should be lifting, what kind of exercise they should be doing, what physical activities they should be avoiding and whether their complications are typical or indicative or something more serious.

She has worked with clients who never received such care.

“One woman who had big complications, bad necrosis, got a pamphlet, and that was it.”

“One woman got one visit from a physiotherapist who taught her how to get out of bed.”

“They’ve had surgery. Muscle has been removed, bone has been removed, nerves have been changed, blood vessels have been moved and they have no follow-up,” she said.

Physical therapy is key to helping patients recover faster and maintain a good quality of life.

“It’s return to work, it’s ability to do the things you love,” she said.

“Without it being managed, it just continues to grow. It gets more and more painful and harder to live with.”

About the Author: Gillian Francis

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