Thrive by IU Health

June 02, 2021

Occupational therapist starts sexual health program for cancer survivors

IU Health West Hospital

Occupational therapist starts sexual health program for cancer survivors

Addie Jacobs, occupational therapist at IU Health West Hospital, developed the idea for a sexual health program for cancer survivors over a year ago. Jacobs will be working with cancer survivors and helping them improve their sexual health during a four-week program.

By Caleigh Ramey, Communications Intern, IU Health Indianapolis Suburban Region

Addie Jacobs, occupational therapist at IU Health West Hospital, began developing the idea for a sexual health program for cancer survivors over a year ago. She says she hopes this new program will help inform cancer survivors about ways to improve their sexual health which can improve their quality of life.

Jacobs began working at IU Health in June of 2019. She graduated from the University of Indianapolis in May of 2017 with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and in May of 2019 a Master's in Gerontology and a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. She works in both in-patient therapy throughout the hospital and out-patient care in the rehabilitation clinic.

“For in-patient therapy, I work with patients on completing daily activities such as bathing, dressing and grooming. We also work on upper body strengthening and improving functionality with completing daily activities,” Jacobs said. “In outpatient therapy, I work with patients who have any conditions impacting the shoulder to the hands. Patients we see can be those who have had surgery, a stroke, fractures, and strains/sprains. I work with them to restore upper body strength, grip strength, motor coordination, scar management and pain management.”

Jacobs will be working with cancer survivors and helping them improve their sexual health during a four-week program offered at both IU Health West Hospital and the IU Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center at IU Health North. The program will have both one-on-one and group components.

Addie Jacobs working with her sexual health program

“The process will start with one-on-one sessions with survivors, where they’ll discuss specific needs they want to address, followed by an evaluation portion. The group classes will provide general sexual health information for common side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. The classes will cover communication, activity modification, adaptive devices and equipment, not only for sexual activity but for everyday activities like grooming, meal prepping, dining, and other things that help individuals maintain their role in a relationship.”

Jacobs says a research project in graduate school opened her eyes to the sexual health needs of cancer survivors.

“The group research project was focused on how occupational therapists were helping cancer survivors and we found that sexual activity was the least addressed activity of daily living,” Jacobs said. “Other research I found while working on this project showed that if your problems with intimacy and sexual health are not addressed then your quality of life can decrease. So, when I was interviewing for my current position I mentioned my doctoral project of creating and implementing sexual health programming with Cancer Support Community.

This got a lot of positive feedback and after I was hired I was asked to complete an in-person service on my project. After that my supervisor approached me about my interest in creating a similar program with IU, and here we are today putting it into action.”

Jacob shares that she understands this subject can be an uncomfortable one but emphasizes the importance of educating oneself.

“The topic of sexual health can be very uncomfortable, but I always say occupational therapists need to open the door to have these conversations and get the communication started. If sexual health for cancer survivors is not discussed, then their needs will not be addressed. So, make sure to reach out to your physician, cancer navigator or nurse practitioner if you are having issues with your sexual health.”

Jacobs says she is most looking forward to improving cancer survivors' overall quality of life.

“My favorite thing about being an occupational therapist is getting to show patients their progress and for them to recognize their accomplishments. So, I am hoping by giving cancer survivors a place to come and address their concerns it can help them resume that intimate part in their life. I want to make a difference in someone’s life and I hope this sexual health program will do that and more.”

If you are interested in an Occupation Therapy Sexual Health Evaluation and/or the group sessions, reach out to your oncologist, primary care doctor, or survivorship care contact so they can fax the order to IU Health West Outpatient Rehab Clinic 317.217.3973.

Related Services

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy helps you resume life activities through evaluations, education, suggested adaptations to your home or routines and interventions promoting safety and independence.