Reclaim Your Strength and Spirit after Breast Cancer
When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, there’s a tendency to focus on how she’s going to fight the disease. But surviving breast cancer takes more than surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
“The goal for most women is to return to their normal, ‘before breast cancer’ lives,” says Virtua physical therapist and certified lymphedema specialist Lynn C. Davis, PT, CLT. Through physical therapy, Davis helps women rebuild their bodies after breast cancer treatment—and helps strengthen their spirit.
The road to recovery
“Breast cancer surgery affects the breast tissue, as well as the muscles of the chest wall and shoulder,” says Davis. “Without proper physical therapy, these muscles become weaker and shorter, and this can lead to poor posture and upper back and shoulder pain.”
The treatments that send cancer into remission also affect the upper body with symptoms that include decreased range of motion and strength, fatigue, and bone loss (osteopenia). Lymphedema (swelling in the arms or legs) is another side effect of breast cancer surgery, and it can occur at any time after lymph node removal. As a lymphedema therapist, Davis works with women to help control this swelling through exercise, massage and compression.
A comprehensive plan
Exercise and therapy are only a small part of recovery for Davis’ patients. When she first meets patients, there’s always a “getting-to-know” you period.
“I start with a thorough interview. I want them to take me through everything that’s happened since their diagnosis and treatment,” says Davis. “This helps me get a clear picture of what they’ve been through and what their state of mind is.” Most importantly, Davis assesses her patients’ activity levels to find out if they’re where they want to be. If they’re not, she sets goals with them. From there, she builds a program to help them rebuild strength—and reach those goals.
The resiliency of her patients amazes and inspires Davis. As she puts it, “Breast cancer survivors aren’t frail individuals who suddenly can’t do anything. They want to get back to life, and they want it to be as good, if not better, than before they were diagnosed. For that reason, I don’t treat them with kid gloves—I help them get through it.”
Updated March 22, 2017