1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. If you are a pelvic health practitioner focusing on people who have ovaries, many in your target market are looking for a therapist who understands breast cancer rehab. Pelvic health therapists are a good fit for this work because:
For these reasons, pelvic health therapists tend to make superb breast cancer rehab specialists (plus, their market is looking for the forerunners who can help them).
You know how to take the patient who feels ‘broken’ to hopeful, and‘un-fixable’ to empowered. You don’t waver in doubt when traditional treatment approaches have failed, but trust your clinical skills (listen, re-assure, evaluate, hypothesize, test -> retest, and progress).
What the problem solver knows about the ‘tough to treat:’
Problem-solvers don’t shy away from complexity, they often find that ‘complex’ is a perception, and get great satisfaction from helping people heal and thrive.
Because lymphedema is one of the most feared side effects of breast cancer patients, you regularly get referrals to treat these patients. They often spend more time with you in a session than any other medical provider and you get to know them. You notice details like gait, mood, and cognitive changes with treatment. They feel comfortable asking your opinion about reconstruction options or admitting their concerns about sexuality & intimacy to you.
You do an incredible job addressing their referral diagnosis and have a hunch that there is something more you need to know about effectively treating other issues like chest wall discomfort or shoulder dysfunction. Sometimes you get frustrated that your patients are referred to you so late or they are panicked with disinformation.
You have a plethora of lymphedema patients, doubt your ability to prioritize these other issues, and think ‘there has got to be a better way!’ There is…and I teach it in the Level 1 KickPink certification course ‘Breast Cancer Rehabilitation; Comprehensive Evaluation & Treatment.’ Expanding treatment beyond lymphedema management might require a paradigm shift, but your patients needs CAN be addressed wholistically & you are in an incredible position to make this possible for them.
You are a manual therapy maven, dynamic in exercise prescription, and innovative in your treatment approaches. Your patients feel your passion for health and are motivated to work with you.
You want to be ‘known’ for your unique skills treating a particular population. You are driven; maybe you own (or desire to own) a private practice, and want to provide exceptional care to an ‘untapped’ market in your area. Have you ever thought about breast cancer rehab?
Imagine this; an automatic referral source from oncologists at the time of diagnosis. You will get to know your patients pre-op, help them heal post-op, and be their ‘go-to’ PRN provider should a side effect occur during treatment or years into remission. When other ortho providers are dumbfounded that their breast cancer patient’s shoulder pain isn’t getting better you swoop in & treat them effectively in just a few sessions. It was ‘magic’ that you helped heal someone’s stubborn plantar fasciitis by treating the chest wall. You’ve got unique skills, a rewarding ‘niche’ and an automatic funnel of breast cancer patients because you are ‘just that good.’
From patient diagnosis to your treatment tool box…you like variety. One minute you are using intuitive manual therapy approaches & the next on the mat teaching yoga & Pilates principles. You believe the mind behind is a major factor in physical healing and thus find yourself addressing lifestyle, mindfulness approaches, and applying brain-pain neuroscience in conversations with your patients. Straight-forward cases that do well with ‘cook book’ treatment approaches can be a nice reprieve, but too much is boring; ultimately you prefer cases that require a little more depth in clinical reasoning and a creative treatment approach.
You have dedicated 3 years to becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy, unfortunately though, times are tough and newer grads are having to submit far more applications to get a job offer. Employers are not only looking at if you are a good ‘fit’ for their team, but how you can add value to thier hospital or clinic. Don’t get me wrong, I do NOT want you considering advanced training in breast oncology just so you can up your job prospects, but if you sincerely want to work with an under-served and rewarding population this might be a good fit for you.
Acute and outpatient care are fresh on your mind; you experienced a variety of different settings and have your finger on the ‘flow’ of progressive patient care. Generally, there is a lack of continuity of care and you could go in with a vision of assisting with team integration across a health system. This takes time to do; Rome wasn’t built in a day, but sometimes fresh blood brings fresh ideas and a vision like this shows intention to ‘stick around’ (i.e. dedication).
Maybe you find an outpatient clinic with an overwhelmed lymphedema team. You start treating their stage 0 and 1 lymphedema patients and their schedule opens up to treat more advanced cases sooner (the lymphedema therapists love you). You are providing comprehensive rehab care & patients are tolerating medical treatment better (the oncologists are impressed). You have established a relationship with a referral source and the acute care team and your clinic’s census has gone up (your clinic values you). You don’t want to just be the newbie; you want to be the new grad with ‘fresh’ ideas who adds value to your employer and community.
Maybe that someone is yourself, a mother, a child, or a dear friend…
My mother was diagnosed when I was 12-years old. I remember measuring the output from her drains and even helping administer Neulasta shots when (as a hospital nurse) her white blood cell counts were low. I know what it felt like to hug her and have her draw away because I touched the back of her arm and she had a post-operative nerve injury. Those experiences at a young age left a huge imprint.
At 26 my best friend transitioned from this earth from small cell neuroendocrine cancer. Cancer taught her a lot; she ascended in gratitude and faith. As a physical therapy student I was wondering why no one taught her how to do scar tissue mobilization as her incisions stretched from pubic bone to sternum. I learned acupressure for her constipation, walked the halls and did bed exercises with her when she was weak in the hospital. When I did my women’s health residency in 2011 I was surprised that interventions for breast cancer mostly consisted of lymphedema treatment. I was astonished when I went to the literature that I could only find a few research articles on various side effects. This is what lead me to creating a comprehensive course in breast cancer rehab.
My work in breast cancer rehab is a tribute to my mother, best friend, and patients who couldn’t get the care they needed. I know I found my ’place’ because I draw so much inspiration from the compassionate, forward-thinking, and gracious rehab providers in this field who I get to teach and learn from. You might be like me in that you find a personal healing through advocacy.
We all know someone who has been affected by cancer. This isn’t easy work; it can be raw at times. I humbly go into this work knowing that knowledge is power, it can be a sensitive topic, and also transformational. There is much work to be done in this burgeoning field of breast cancer rehabilitation. I hope one day you join us.
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