A day in the life: occupational therapy

To mark Occupational Therapy Week, we’re celebrating the amazing Royal Marsden staff who help our patients maintain their independence after cancer treatment.

Occupational Therapist, Amy Traves, works with haematology patients on the Bud Flanagan wards in Sutton.

What do Occupational Therapists do?

As an Occupational Therapist I provide support to people whose health is preventing them from doing activities that are meaningful to them. Occupational Therapy is all about the things we do every day, often without thinking about, such as getting up, washed and dressed.

When a person is unwell these activities can become more difficult. As an Occupational Therapist I aim to offer practical solutions to these difficulties. All Occupational Therapists have a ‘tool box’ full of techniques, advice and equipment that can help a person maintain their independence.

What made you decide to be an Occupational Therapist?

I have always loved getting to know people, hearing about what really matters to them, what makes them tick, hence Occupational Therapy was right up my street. I love a challenge and I love unpicking a problem. I feel very lucky that I get to share part of people’s cancer journey with them, especially when we overcome challenges together.

What does a typical day involve?

My day begins reading up on my patient’s notes and attending a hand over on the ward. A lot can change overnight. This helps me to keep my interventions concise and relevant to how each patient may be feeling on a day to day basis.

Mornings are usually spent in the bathroom facilitating wash and dress sessions. Some of my  patients feel less able to engage in activities such as having a wash following their treatment - these sessions are designed to help build independence, confidence and skills. I’m extremely sensitive to peoples dignity and the pace of the session is always lead by the patient.

I feel very lucky that I get to share part of people’s cancer journey with them, especially when we overcome challenges together.

A large element of my role is to plan for when people go home, to insure that their homes are fully accessible to them, and if not, to organise the provision of equipment and sometimes adaptation of the home environment.

I also offer sessions in anxiety management, fatigue management and breathlessness. These sessions are great for giving people the tools to self-manage their cancer symptoms.

Where and when do you see patients?

The majority of my patients are in-patients; however I regularly accept out-patient referrals too. I try to be as flexible and accessible as possible to people. It’s often hard to admit your finding things difficult so I like to have my door wide open so people can access support in their own time.

I mainly see patients during their treatment phase - often during their chemotherapy or after a stem cell transplant. These treatments do have side effects and the most problematic and recurring in my experience is fatigue.

Fatigue can make people feel less inclined to engage in their everyday activities. This is a vicious circle because the less you do, the more fatigued you feel. I work closely with my patients to insure that they are not spending too much time in bed, we work on energy conservation techniques to ensure that the energy they have is put into activities that they enjoy.