October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everywhere in the community, there are pink ribbons, socks and even wiper blades.
The stats are scary; 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer and as of the first of this year, there are more than 3.1 million women in this country that have or have had breast cancer. The treatment for breast cancer can also be overwhelming — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy but survival rates are climbing higher and higher.
The side effects of these approaches are different for each person but often times, survivors are left with fatigue, decreased stamina, strength, balance, range of motion deficits and a life-long risk of lymphedema. Frequently, these survivors of breast cancer move on with a sense that these common side-effects of treatment are part of their “new normal.”
October is also National Physical Therapy Month. Physical therapists and assistants work throughout our community, serving those in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, outpatient clinics and even in a patient’s own home. The common goal of physical therapy is to help people to return to their highest level of functioning possible for their best quality of life. This means helping people to return to walking after a stroke or getting back to work after a joint replacement surgery. This means helping to improve independence and safety by addressing strength, range of motion, balance, stamina, pain and other issues. Now, this also applies to people dealing with cancer.
Oncology rehab is a specialized form of physical therapy that Mercy Health-St. Rita’s has been offering to the community for the past year and a half. It is led by Dr. Amy Wahlgren, a physical therapist who in 2017 earned a certificate as an oncology rehab specialist. She continues to be the only therapist in the state of Ohio with this specific education. This program is available to all individuals who have or have had cancer and are dealing with its side effects. Patients do need to speak with their medical practitioner to determine if he or she is a candidate to participate in the oncology rehab program and obtain a prescription.
Evaluations and treatment are performed at the Oncology Rehab Clinic which is located within the Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Cancer Center. This makes it easy for survivors as it is also where the rest of their oncology team is located and appointments between these services can be easily coordinated.
Another way oncology rehab is making an impact in the lives of those with breast cancer is partnering with the free Integrated Breast Cancer Clinics that are offered every Friday morning to those people just diagnosed with breast cancer. This opportunity allows those newly diagnosed to meet with surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurse navigators and others to help develop a treatment plan to tackle their cancer. Oncology rehab participates by taking baseline measurements of shoulder range of motion as well as arm circumference to assist in early detection of lymphedema.
Oncology “prehab” is a recent addition to the breast cancer service line that allows for a more in-depth evaluation to help identify any potential barriers to recovery as well as provides education as to what the patient can be doing before and after surgery to help ensure the best outcome possible. Periodic appointments are scheduled after surgery to help progress the patient through the stages of healing with the goal of a full return to normal activities as quickly as possible.
Mercy Health-St. Rita’s offers high quality cancer care, right here in our community. We are proud of the surgical, medical, and radiation services we offer to help those in the Lima-area fight their cancer. Oncology rehab is now one more tool available; it can battle cancer’s common side effects and allow survivors the quality of life they deserve for a fight hard won.
Dr. Amy Wahlgren, PT, DPT, CORS