Living with a brain or spinal cord tumour
A brain or spinal cord tumour and its treatment can change how the mind and body work. You or your family members may notice changes in how you speak and your personality, memory, movement, balance or coordination. If you or your family feel like you are behaving differently, talk to your doctor, nurse or cancer care coordinator. The types of changes will depend on what part of the brain is affected by the tumour and what treatment you have had.
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Rehabilitation is treatment designed to help people recover from injury or disease. After treatment for a brain tumour, most people need to have a rehabilitation assessment and therapies. These can help restore your previous abilities or help you adjust to any changes.
The changes may be difficult to cope with emotionally, and you might find that your self-esteem and your relationships are affected. Talking to a counsellor or someone who has had a similar experience may help. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to see what support is available.
Types of rehabilitation
A range of therapies can support you in your recovery. These may be available at your cancer treatment centre, or through a rehabilitation specialist at a rehabilitation hospital. You may also be referred to individual allied health professionals (e.g. physiotherapist, occupational therapist) in private practice.
PhysiotherapyIn some cases, physiotherapy can help you learn how to move more easily. It can also help you to develop muscle strength and balance. Moving and strengthening your muscles can reduce tiredness or weakness related to cancer treatment. If you can’t move easily, you may be able to learn techniques, such as using a walking stick, so you can become more independent.
Cognitive rehabilitationYour memory, language skills, thinking, planning and problem-solving skills (executive function) may be affected. A neuropsychologist, speech pathologist or occupational therapist can help improve these cognitive skills using memory activities, speech therapy, assistive technology such as diaries and reminder alerts, and word puzzles.
ExerciseA physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist can give you advice on how to exercise safely and stimulate parts of your body to improve circulation and reduce swelling, and improve your cardiovascular fitness. To find an accredited exercise physiologist, visit essa.org.au/ find-aep; for a physiotherapist, visit choose.physio/findaphysio.
Speech therapyIf your ability to talk has been affected, a speech pathologist may be able to help. Speech pathologists also work with people who have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).To find a speech pathologist, visit Speech Pathology Australia.
Help with vision impairmentSome people may lose some or all of their sight as a result of a brain tumour or surgery. Vision Australia can help people learn how to live independently.
Occupational therapyThe treatment may mean it’s harder to perform everyday personal activities (e.g. showering, dressing, preparing a meal). An occupational therapist can help you to return to the activities that are important to you. A range of strategies and aids can help you manage fatigue and improve or maintain your independence. To find an occupational therapist working in private practice, visit Occupational Therapy Australia.
Financial support for people with disabilitiesThe National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provides Australians aged under 65 and who have a permanent and significant disability with funding for support and services. NDIS can help a person with a brain tumour access services in their community. If your GP refers you to a rehabilitation specialist as part of a Chronic Disease Management plan, you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate for up to five visits each year.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Andrew Davidson, Neurosurgeon, Macquarie University Hospital, NSW; Dr Lucy Gately, Medical Oncologist, Oncology Clinics Victoria, and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, VIC; Melissa Harrison, Allied Health Manager and Senior Neurological Physiotherapist, Advance Rehab Centre, NSW; Scott Jones, Consumer; Anne King, Neurology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Health Department, WA; Dr Toni Lindsay, Senior Clinical Psychologist and Allied Health Manager, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Elissa McVey, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Claire Phillips, Deputy Director, Radiation Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC.
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