Getting More Out of Your Recovery?
Last updated: May 2023
A pulmonary function test (PFT) is done as part of the staging and diagnosis of lung cancer. At a patient education summit sponsored by Lungevity, a pulmonologist recommended that patients seek another PFT when chemotherapy and radiation were finished. The objective of having the follow up is to qualify for pulmonary rehabilitation.
Convincing my doctors
When I saw my internist later that month I requested a referral for a pulmonologist. My doctor was skeptical but made the referral. At the pulmonologist’s office, after a brief interview and examination, the pulmonologist told me she didn’t think I would qualify for rehab. She ordered the PFT anyhow because she saw no harm in establishing a new baseline.
When the doctor called me with the results of testing she was genuinely surprised. The good news was that I qualified for pulmonary rehabilitation. The bad news was that I qualified for pulmonary rehabilitation. Cancer treatment caused enough damage to my lungs that I am now diagnosed with congestive oppressive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Lung tissue does not regenerate. Chemo and radiation leave scar tissue behind where there was once cancer. Radiation also causes damage to healthy tissue causing more lung function to be lost. (Stereotactic body radiation, which limits damage was not an option for me in 2010).
The pulmonary rehab experience
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a terrific experience. My rehab class was done in a small group setting. There were only 5 in the group so each member got a fair amount of one on one time with our respiratory therapist.
The first thing we focused on was pursed lip breathing to maximize oxygen use during exercise or exertion. With COPD the lungs don’t fully exhale CO2 so there’s less room for oxygen taken in with each breath. Forcing the air through pursed lips causes more CO2 to be expelled leaving room for more air to come in.
The first session was devoted to establishing a baseline. We did a timed walk, the therapist monitoring our respiratory rates, pulse, and PO2 (oxygen levels). We also did a walk on the treadmill at the fastest pace we could comfortably manage. Later, on our last day, we would repeat these tests and compare our results to the first to see how far we’d come.
Each session began with a warm up of seated exercises. We used a variety of weights and therabands. After warm-up, the therapist checked our blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and PO2 levels. If we showed no signs of distress we would move onto exercising equipment. We did a circuit that included the treadmill, arm bike, stationary bicycles, and a Nu-step. I liked to end each work out at that basketball game where you get multiple balls and try to sink lots of baskets in a short period of time.
Benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation
Exercise is the biggest element in pulmonary rehabilitation. The program was devised to strengthen the muscles that support breathing. It also focuses on strengthening the core and building stamina. As an unexpected side effect, I was able to decrease my need for pain medications. Exercise also helped decrease my fatigue.
If you’ve recently completed treatment please talk to your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation. Give yourself the best tools to you can to regain as much breathing capacity as possible.
Beside manner matters! What has your experience been?