Cancer Rehab program makes a difference for breast cancer

Rehabilitation Center
“I was just out of surgery and looking at four months of chemotherapy, followed by another month of radiation. I was so tired and overwhelmed, the last thing I wanted to hear was that I needed to exercise.”

As Director of Emergency Services at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, June Boie, R.N., is used to treating and caring for patients. But when she was diagnosed with stage 2 lobular breast cancer on November 4, 2015, she wasn’t prepared to become a patient herself. Suddenly, she was faced with the reality of a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.

Not long after surgery, June was referred to Rice Rehabilitation Center for physical therapy. It was there she met Jenny Iverson, Physical Therapist, whose message to June was simple… the more you exercise, the better you’ll feel. It was the opposite of everything June wanted to hear.

“I was just out of surgery and looking at four months of chemotherapy, followed by another month of radiation,” June said. “I was so tired and overwhelmed, the last thing I wanted to hear was that I needed to exercise.”

It’s a common response, said Jenny. “Most people don’t realize that exercise actually helps combat fatigue because it allows the body to make a stock pile of strength and endurance. So, when you’re hit with fatigue as a side effect of either chemo, radiation, or the cancer itself, it doesn’t deplete your stock pile as much.”

They started slowly. At their first meeting, Jenny assessed what June was able to do and then recommended walking and doing a few exercises at home. Next, they worked on flexibility and range of motion. June was experiencing a lot of pain near the incision under her arm, so Jenny used a technique called “myofascial stretching with movement” to stretch out the muscles/fascia to reduce pain and improve range of motion.

“Jenny would push in on the spot where I was experiencing pain, then I would perform range of motion exercises to get the tissues more flexible and work out the pain. It definitely worked.”

Jenny also sent resistance bands home with June to help her build strength and improve flexibility. She would hook the band in a door, then pull away, moving her arm up over her head, then back down.

“Doing the exercises gave me something to do that was within my control. It’s empowering because it allows you to become a part of your own recovery plan. You work harder so you can get back to normal more quickly.”

“June was very committed to her rehab from the get-go,” said Jenny. “She was faithful with her exercises, which allowed her to have an excellent recovery.”

June credits fellow Rice employee, Jan Wrase, for being a great inspiration to her throughout her treatment. Also diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2015, Jan began her chemotherapy about a month earlier than June, so the two would compare notes and offer words of encouragement whenever they passed each other in the hallways at work.

June and Jan were both treated at Willmar Regional Cancer Center, a joint venture of Rice Memorial Hospital and ACMC that’s located on the Rice campus. Jan underwent a lumpectomy and had seven lymph nodes removed. Following her surgery, Jan was also referred to Rice Rehab for physical therapy.

“I was planning a trip out east for Christmas and was concerned about developing lymphedema on the flight,” she explained. She was introduced to Rice Rehab P.T. Melissa Mortenson to learn exercises that would help reduce her chances of developing lymphedema.

“When I started working with Melissa, she taught me what to do and what to watch for. She noticed one of my arms was more swollen than the other one, so she showed me exercises that helped. The swelling went down.”

Melissa also showed Jan some exercises she could do at home to prevent stiffness and increase range of motion. She also encouraged Jan to stay active as part of her recovery and combat fatigue.

“For me, the worst part of chemo was the shot I received afterward that helped increase the production of white blood cells. It made my bones ache, and it was very uncomfortable. After starting rehab, I felt a lot more normal and was able to be outside in the yard instead of inside on the couch. It definitely made a difference.”

Both Jan and June are quick to credit their team at Rice Rehabilitation Center for being an important part of their recovery.

“I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else,” said Jan.