Specialized therapy can increase cancer survivors' mobility


    MISSOULA, Mont. - Physical therapy specialists in western Montana say people in all phases of cancer can get help to become more mobile, whether they were recently diagnosed or finished their treatment years ago.

    Target Range resident Roberta Walker credits support from friends, family and cancer professionals for her recovery from a full mastectomy.

    "Anything I needed or wanted, it was answered. On a day that I was down or not feeling well, I would either get a call, a card in the mail, or somebody would stop by," said Walker.

    Walker did as much as she could throughout treatment.

    "There were days that all I could do was walk from the kitchen to the couch. On the days that I could do more, I came in and walked the track, even if it was just one lap," said Walker.

    Jessica Kehoe is on the cancer specialist team at Alpine Physical Therapy. She says major surgery, like a mastectomy, can create a lot of scar tissue.

    "It can really affect range of motion of a shoulder," said Kehoe.

    Individual therapy, including stretching techniques, helps patients recovering from various forms of cancer gain more mobility.

    "I've worked with people with ovarian cancer. They may have had some surgeries, but their issues are back pain," said Kehoe.

    Walker encourages other survivors to be persistent in finding the specific help they need.

    "If you're dealing with cancer, find somebody for your health. Not everything fits each person, but there's something out there for you," said Walker.

    For example, cancer treatments can bring on chronic swelling for some survivors, even years later.

    Nationally certified specialist Antara Quienones says that requires specific massage and compression techniques.

    "It's not a water-driven swelling. The lymphatic system is what removes proteins. Water chases protein. If there's a lot of protein molecules sitting in between your cells, the water will sit there until those proteins get moved as well," said Quienones.

    Quienones warns that lymphedema can lead to a number of issues if left untreated.

    "You end up with more and more swelling. Your skin eventually breaks down. You could end up with ulcers and infection and end up in the hospital," said Quienones.

    She urges patients who start experiencing swelling to see their doctor, to see if the condition is driven by the lymphatic system or something else.

    For Walker, exercising five days a week is helping her get good medical checkups. "So far everything looks fantastic," she said.

    However experts warn that nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue and pain are signs that you could be doing too much.

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