By: Valerie Wang, Physical Therapist, St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute
As a women’s health therapist I was aware of the valuable work that specially-trained therapists provide for women recovering from breast cancer. However, it all became more personal when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am fortunate to work with a great team of therapists. I was also able to network with physical therapists across the nation through the American Physical Therapy Association’s Oncology Section, and I relied on their expertise and personal stories.
In the end, I had two lumpectomies before a mastectomy and immediate reconstructive surgery in March, 2009. With the knowledge I had as a physical therapist, and the knowledge I had gained from my colleagues, I was ahead of the curve and knew what to do. Instead of just waiting and hoping that problems didn’t develop, I was able to use several therapy techniques to proactively manage pain, improve my shoulder motion and re-educate my abdominal muscles (which were involved in the reconstruction) to work with my body rather than to be afraid.
Some of the techniques I used, and that we use with our patients at St. Luke’s outpatient services, include therapeutic exercises, manual therapy including stretches and soft tissue massage, lymph clearing techniques and gentle aerobic conditioning exercises. Numerous studies show that the benefits from post-surgery rehabilitation are substantial. They show improved posture and ability to perform basic self-care and preventative measures. Additionally they return to family, work and leisure activities sooner while experiencing improvements in their range of motion, muscle symmetry, bulk and function as well as prevention of lymphedema.
In my case, early rehabilitation, allowed me to return to work with few restrictions in my busy outpatient therapy practice. Once I was cleared by my surgeon, I was also able to return to gardening and swimming – both of which really helped with my recovery, both physically and mentally.
In the end, I believe that I am a better woman’s health therapist having gone through surgery and treatment for breast cancer. I know first-hand that our team of therapists is ready to help women with customized therapy with a focus on early rehabilitation for women after breast surgery.