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Finding strength after breast cancer

The Hibbing Daily Tribune - 3/13/2018

HIBBING - The journey of a breast cancer patient is unique.

It can begin with the telltale symptoms - a change in skin or the detection of a lump, followed by a diagnosis and then treatment. The battle for a clean bill of health is tough and can leave cancer survivors emotionally drained, physically weaker and forever changed.

Depending on the course of treatment, some cancer patients beat the disease but are left with a medical condition called lymphedema - a painful swelling in the limbs, trunk, head or neck of excess lymphatic fluid. Lymphedema usually develops when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes are removed. March is national lymphedema awareness month.

Katie Gustafson of Hibbing is a breast cancer survivor. The cancer was in her lymph nodes, which were destroyed during rounds of radiation. She lives with lymphedema now and has learned how to manage the painful flare-ups.

Gustafson was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her daughter Alice, now 4, was born. "Alice was 6 months old when I was diagnosed. It was the scariest time in my life," she explained. "I couldn't lift Alice for six weeks after my double mastectomy, and it makes me so sad to think of missing out on some of her babyhood. My right arm and hand have never gotten down to the size they were before and the pain flares up occasionally."

She's been cancer-free for just more than three years, but, as she explained, one is never really "cancer-free."

Gustafson is just one of many Iron Range residents who could be a candidate for a new program being introduced at Choice Therapy in Hibbing. The program called Strength After Breast Cancer (Strength ABC) kicks off with an open house from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 14.

Strength ABC aims to educate breast cancer survivors regarding the usefulness of exercise for prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and improvement of common adverse effects from breast cancer treatment, including lymphedema.

Beth Lind, doctor of physical therapy and certified lymphedema therapist, will be leading the Strength ABC Program.

"I'll be providing information on the long-term effects of breast cancer treatment and talking about the risks and benefits of exercise," she explained. "And why this program is better than going it alone."

Strength ABC is a research-based program developed by a physician at the University of Pennsylvania. Therapists wishing to offer this program to their patients have to go through specialized training.

"There's nothing like it in our area," said Lind. "Having this background and knowledge and knowing that we are providing a program that is based on research and found to really work makes this program unique."

Strength ABC is a slow progression, strengthening program that offers instruction, guidance and motivation. Patients make six visits that can be billed through insurance or be paid for privately. The visits consist of an evaluation session, an education session and exercise sessions that can be held in a group or private setting, depending on client preference.

The new program is geared toward any breast cancer survivor.

"Whether it has been recent or if it has been 5, 10, 20 or more years, you're eligible for this program as long as they are cleared by a physician to start normal activity, they are currently free of cancer and will also be cleared by me at the evaluation before beginning," explained Lind.

Choice Therapy's goal is to have the program available at all times.

"My hope is that we will get enough eligible and interested people that we can be in a group setting so others may be motivated by people with the same struggles, same triumphs and can maybe share the ups and downs throughout their exercise program and their day to day life," said Lind.

"Exercise is important for everyone, but sometimes the adverse effects of breast cancer treatment make more difficult for some individuals to get back into regular activity and exercise," she added. "This program can help, and we are excited to be able to offer it."

Choice Therapy is located at 1101 E. 37th St. in Hibbing. For more information, call 218-440-1548 or email StrengthABC@choicetherapy1.com


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