Local women who are facing or who have undergone surgery for breast cancer can turn to Blue Hill Memorial Hospital for a new program that will help restore their quality of life. Beth Wagstaff, OT, developed the program which is delivered through the hospital’s Rehabilitation Services department. An experienced occupational therapist with special training in areas ranging from therapeutic yoga to the management of sensory processing disorders, Wagstaff was inspired to develop the new program after several friends, both under the age of 40, developed breast cancer. “Sometimes it feels like breast cancer is an epidemic in our community,” says Wagstaff, whose accreditation from the Pink Ribbon Program in Boston makes her a certified breast cancer exercise specialist.
The new Breast Cancer Recovery and Rehabilitation Services program can be tailored to meet the unique needs of individual patients. “The priorities of a 42 year-old mother of two young children are different than the needs of an active 70 year-old who wants to return to her golfing and tennis,” Wagstaff explains. “The scope of a surgical procedure, pre-existing conditions like diabetes, and a patient’s overall condition prior to surgery are other factors that I consider as I develop a treatment plan.”
Wagstaff emphasizes that women can begin to benefit from the new program as soon as they learn that surgery is needed. She works individually with pre-surgical patients in a private, comfortable treatment area, gathering baseline information on daily level of function, needs and goals. She also analyzes a woman’s posture, and assesses her baseline flexibility and strength. To help women prepare for surgery, Wagstaff provides education on post-operative shoulder mobility exercises, breathing exercises, lymphedema precautions and daily activity guidelines. “Women may glean bits and pieces of this information from other medical professionals or from their own reading and research. I’ve found, however, that it really helps to work with my patients on a very individualized, interactive basis when they don’t feel the pressures of a more traditional medical environment. “Nearly all cancer patients express fear about losing control. Education and simple exercises can help women regain a sense that they are in the driver’s seat.”
Following breast cancer surgery, Beth helps women regain their shoulder motion and upper extremity strength. When advisable for the patient, she conducts a cardiovascular assessment and identifies functional limitations. Wagstaff also provides manual lymphatic drainage, a special type of massage that helps to reduce swelling and pain following surgery such as a radical mastectomy that involves the removal of lymph nodes under the arms. “Many breast cancer patients don’t understand what is happening to their bodies when they experience lymphedema,” she explains. “In addition to treating the problem, I explain how they can help to prevent swelling, whether they had the surgery two weeks or two years ago.”
Mark Hankinson, manager of the Rehabilitation Services Department notes that he is “extremely excited about the development and implementation of the new program. It’s just one more way that we can make a real difference for our community.”
Appointments are available immediately and the program is covered by most insurances. Financial assistance programs are available to those who qualify. For more information, contact the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital’s Rehabilitation Services Department at 374-3454.