How Physical Therapy Helped Me Recover from Breast Cancer

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Woman in physical therapy

As a 38-year-old mom, wife, and businesswoman with an active lifestyle, I received the shock of my life this year when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise as my mom, aunt, and grandmother had all been through breast cancer.  But I was by far the youngest in our family to be diagnosed.  This kicked off 6 months of changes to my life and learning more about my body than I had ever known.

The cancer was found by my OBGYN during my annual appointment.  After a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy, the cancer was confirmed less than a day later.  After a month of stress, tests, and learning more about cancer, it was determined that my best path forward was to have a bilateral mastectomy.

My first surgery included removing all of my breast tissue and replacing it with tissue expanders to begin the reconstruction process.  The next few weeks were very painful as I recovered.  I was used to being active at the gym 5-6 days a week; after the surgery, I was no longer able to move the same way I used to.  One of my lymph nodes was removed to see if my cancer had spread; this caused my armpit to completely lose all feeling. I was unable to lift my arm.

Throughout these first 3 months, my medical team was fantastic.  One of the things my Nurse Navigator recommended was to participate in physical therapy to reacquire my range of motion and ensure that I work to prevent lymphedema.  I was a little surprised to learn that physical therapy was a part of the healing process for a mastectomy; in my mind, it felt unrelated. Despite my doubts about the need for physical therapy, my oncologist confirmed my nurse’s recommendation that I would recover faster with the assistance of physical therapy.

I met with my physical therapist multiple times over a month to learn new exercises. She taught me about how the lymphatic system works so I would know how to recognize lymphedema if it happens.  She explained that breast cancer patients often qualify for multiple physical therapy sessions but feel too overwhelmed to participate.

Physical therapy started to give me back the lifestyle I had been used to.  After 8 weeks post-surgery, I was back in the gym kickboxing and gaining my strength back.  I believe that the sessions with my physical therapists were critical to my recovery this year!

October is breast cancer month and I want to personally encourage all women to make sure they visit your OBGYN this month if they haven’t been to their doctor in a while.  This year wasn’t what I expected it to be, but I have a newfound appreciation for my doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and the medical advancements that have been made in breast cancer.

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