Physical therapy can help cancer patients during the rehabilitation process

Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 2:16 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Michelle Buss was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021.

“I was originally diagnosed stage one, and I went through chemotherapy last fall and the chemotherapy did not work, so the tumor grew and it spread,” Buss said. “So then I was re-staged a stage three.”

Buss had a surgical procedure called a lumpectomy in January of 2022 along with radiation.

After going through that, Buss headed over to see Lori Stress who is a physical therapist that specializes in cancer rehabilitation at Marshfield Medical Center in Eau Claire.

“With a cancer patient, they actually usually involve more systems because they have the soft tissue that is then surgically altered. They’re going to have the area of the lymphatic circulation system nerve endings that can be affected along with all the other normal things,” Stress said.

Stress says part of her role is to help get her patients active.

“Getting the range of motion back safely,” Stress said. “If they’ve had lymph nodes removed in an area that we’re trying to move, that’s basically more tender almost always to a person.”

For someone like Buss who enjoyed being active before her cancer diagnosis, she describes sessions with Stress as empowering.

“She would give me different exercises and things I could do, and it made me feel good to be moving and doing something,” Buss said.

When seeing a patient, Stress says there are times when the support she offers goes beyond physical touch. She adds emotional support is just as important.

“Letting them talk and letting them figure out that, you know, it’s normal to feel the feelings that they’re feeling or, you know, trying to get them to laugh if they’re having a bad day,” Stress said. “It is sometimes difficult but we work on that too.”

Buss says she found comfort in having someone like Stress be a part of her cancer journey because the experiences she had were normalized.

“She made it seem like this is normal,” Buss said. “I could ask her questions and she would answer them and I knew going to her, I got the sense like, it’ll be fine. It’s a process. She reminded me it’s a process.”

Buss says one thing she’s learned from going to physical therapy and her own cancer experiences is to take one day at a time.

“We all have bad days,” Buss said. “We all have challenges, but maybe today isn’t a great day. Get through it, put it aside and wake up the next day and it will be a good day.”