Helping Cancer Surviors Maximize Their Ability


We don’t just want our cancer patients to survive; we want them to thrive.

We are the only rehabilitation hospital in the region — and one of only a handful of institutions across the country — to offer a comprehensive, integrated approach to rehabilitation for adults and children fighting cancer.

Integrating rehabilitation with primary cancer treatment through an interdisciplinary team leads to better patient outcomes and greater patient ability — yet our unique approach remains relatively uncommon. In fact, none of the nation’s top cancer centers offers this level of expertise or rehabilitation care, or has made full integration of care the focus of the care-planning process.


We can help all cancer patients at any point in the disease continuum — soon after diagnosis in preparing for treatment or surgery, during chemotherapy or radiation, or a decade after diagnosis when additional loss of function or new impairment emerges.                                                            

Cancer survivorship rates are increasing due to tremendous progress in cancer research and acute care. Lagging behind, however, are equivalent rehabilitation advances that meet the needs of cancer survivors following ever-more aggressive treatments. The great advances in survival, while wonderful, have created a growing population of patients with neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and other organ-related impairments caused by the cancer itself, or by these new and more aggressive ways to fight it.

Some cancers directly affect the brain or bones, resulting in primary paralysis or limb loss. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery almost always cause debilitating fatigue, pain, loss of sensation, muscle weakness, joint dysfunction, limited mobility and great emotional strain. Other consequences from life-saving cancer treatment may include difficulty in swallowing, poor nutrition, breakdown of the skin, bowel/bladder or sexual dysfunction and lymphedema.

Surivors Thrive with World-Class Care


For the vast majority of these patients, we are able to coordinate care with the referring oncologists and surgeons, thus leveraging our proximity to and affiliation with the Lurie Cancer Center of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The profound advantage of this coordination is that patients can receive a range of primary cancer treatments concurrent with rehabilitation to maintain strength and functional ability. 

Our clinicians and researchers address each patient’s unique needs based on the type of cancer, the organ system affected, the stage of disease, the cancer treatment given and the patient’s loss of function. For each cancer patient, we assemble a unique cancer rehabilitation team. At the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, we continue to take this integrated, patient-specific approach, regardless of the Innovation Center to which they are admitted. For example, we will continue to align the patient’s care plan with what is appropriate for the part of the body or organ most affected by his or her cancer or cancer treatment. 

In this way, the Cancer Rehabilitation Innovation Center continues to leverage (and expand our leverage) of the world-class care and expertise provided in all of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s other Innovation Centers — Brain; Spinal Cord; Nerve, Muscle & Bone; and Pediatric Rehabilitation. 

How We Heal

As one of few U.S. centers for cancer-related rehabilitation — we have the deepest experience and the top medical and research professionals. Our doctors and scientists not only bring their expertise, but also leverage advances in treating cancer to help us understand the causes of impairment.

Cancer Card

Cancer Rehabilitation Innovation Center

Our Cancer Rehabilitation Innovation Center enhances collaboration between medicine and science, and incorporates research findings into our continuum of care.

Think + Speak Lab

The Robert R. McCormick Think + Speak Lab is designed for those recovering the ability to think, reason, perceive, swallow, eat, talk, interact with others and make decisions — all of which are key for returning to everyday life. In this Lab, combined therapeutic care and scientific application help patients recover these building blocks of ability.

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Arms + Hands Lab

The two-story Harris Family Foundation Arms + Hands Lab is a robust environment designed for patients and research participants working on recovering and strengthening complex hand and reaching skills — turning a key, picking up a pen, reaching for a glass, putting on a sweater … all the many things we do with our hands, arms and fingers.

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Legs + Walking Lab

The Margaret & Mark Stephan Legs + Walking Lab is designed for patients and research participants with diagnoses affecting lower-body function due to brain or spinal cord injury and diseases of the nerves, muscles and bones. Researchers and clinicians focus on advancing trunk, pelvic and leg function, movement, coordination, strength and balance.

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Strength + Endurance Lab

The two-story Nancy W. Knowles Strength + Endurance Lab is designed for patients and research participants who are working on building stamina and resilience. In this Lab, therapy is focused on improving complex motor and endurance activities, coordination and higher-level activities of daily living (cooking, dressing, gardening, sports).

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