It wasn't until after my third and final reconstruction surgery that I found out about physical therapy. It was a fluke really. I had started swimming laps to help build back my muscle tone and was at our local athletic club when I bumped into Renee from Ojai Cares. Renee, a cancer survivor and Assistant Director at Ojai Cares, our local cancer support center, took one look at my arms and proclaimed that my left arm was swollen as a result of lymphedema and she asked if I was in physical therapy? I knew I was at risk for lymphedema, but didn't know how to spot it and my arms were sore and aching, but I assumed that was a result of the swimming I had been doing. They were bigger than they were before, but I had gained ten pounds during chemo, so just assumed that was the cause.
On this breast cancer journey I had already seen my general doctor, a surgeon, an oncologist, a dermatologist, a plastic surgeon, a cardiologist, a genetic counselor, and been through two surgeries and nobody mentioned physical therapy! I immediately contacted my oncologist and told her that my left arm was swollen and I needed physical therapy. No problem. My insurance approved eight sessions just like that. I was grateful, but kind of pissed off that I could have benefitted from PT after my total double mastectomy. Better late than never as I was scheduled for my final breast reconstruction surgery in a month. I have always thought of myself as a pretty good advocate, asking lots and lots of questions and researching on my own on the web. How did I completely miss the option of physical therapy? Oh well, I did and now I don't want you to.
Physical therapy is covered to some extent by most insurance plans and treats disease, injuries or other physical problems with massage, heat, and exercise rather than with pharmaceuticals. This was right up my alley as I had struggled on my own for months to get my arms back up over my head and to rebuild the muscles that were temporarily on vacation due to the surgeries and debilitating months of chemotherapy.
My PT therapist, Joanna, taught me how to manually drain my arms through lymphatic massage and developed an exercise program to gently target the muscles in my arms, bringing them back to reality and usefulness. I saw Joanna for those eight sessions and went into my final surgery in much better physical shape than the last two. After I was healed from the breast implant surgery, my oncologist ordered another eight sessions and Joanna and I started from scratch building my arms back. I am currently on my third group of PT sessions and finally feeling like I will be able to reclaim my body physically and mentally thanks to PT. If you have had surgery, an injury or a physical problem that needs fixing...ask your doctor today if PT will help you. It has helped me immensely!