This post introduces readers to some of the available treatment options for all phases of breast cancer. I present my method of treatment but there are numerous therapies and modalities available to patients. If natural therapies are of interest, I suggest trying a few different kinds to determine the right fit. I address the physical & mental aspects to recovery but by no means am advocating that this type of work is necessary for all women. For some women their choice to not have therapy could be a necessary component to the healing of their psyche. Some may not need it at all, while others may come to it later if or when they are ready. Each person needs to consider what is best for them individually. My goal is let people know that this type of service exists and to offer some general information on how this type of therapy can help.
The breast cancer journey is a significant life event that can change many aspects of a woman's life. Women must deal with the shock of diagnosis and the fear of what it means to go through medical treatment. Associated with the shock is the realization that their body will change and that there will be side effects to their procedures.
Post-treatment, most women are relieved that they survived their cancer but many don't know how to reduce the short and long-term symptoms from their medical procedures. They may not know their options and as a result will live with the side effects, adapting their lifestyles to what they are limited by.
Commonly for some women, their fear has such a ripple effect that it stops them from seeking out post-operative therapy all together. Like many survivors they may be experiencing numbness, swelling, pain, or tissue restrictions. They may not even want to revisit this part of their body, resisting as if it will bring back the cancer. Additionally, some avoid physical therapy because they are trying to avoid the emotional impact of the disease and how it has altered their identity and body image. They may not like how their body looks post-cancer and are afraid of being seen by health professionals. They therefore resign themselves to living with the side effects because they are just happy to be alive.
While this is a completely normal reaction to the magnitude of having gone through this disease, there are many support systems in place to help women recover as fully as possible. In the coming months I will feature services that I think are relevant to this process, highlighting professionals who are experts in their respective fields. In the meantime I can offer what I know about the physical & emotional component of recovery based on my experience as a practitioner.
I was trained as a massage therapist so I approach therapy from a manual practitioner's perspective, focusing on the soft tissues of the body. I spent most of my career treating various musculoskeletal concerns and specializing in the rehabilitation of fascia. I then went on to study the Dr. Vodder method of Manual Lymph Drainage & Combined Decongestive Therapy. I've developed an acute sensitivity to restriction & congestion and work at the level of tension. I modify treatments according to a client's specific condition and the way in which they 'carry' their restrictions.
The physical symptoms following cancer treatment are numerous. There are the short term symptoms and the ones that can linger for years if left untreated. Immediately following surgery there can be joint restriction, tension, fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, grief, numbness, infection, swelling, and/or pain. My method of treatment helps clients return to their regular activities faster, thereby improving their quality of life as they recover both physically & emotionally.
The long-term impact of invasive procedures is minimized, allowing for changes in the body to be functionally integrated. In particular the softening of scar tissue helps to reduce any 'pulling' sensations that are felt in the affected tissues during movement. This improves range of motion and decreases any residual numbness, localized swelling, or sharp pain.
Most of the short term symptoms listed above can become chronic with the possible addition of Lymphedema that compounds the other side effects. Close to 20% of breast cancer survivors will develop Secondary Lymphedema following their procedures. This happens as a result of the removal of axillary lymph nodes on the affected side. The lymphatic system on the affected limb will therefore be compromised and the arm will loose it's ability to effectively drain the lymph fluid.
The result is a chronically swollen arm that is painful and/or debilitating depending upon the severity. Although the body creates alternative pathways for lymphatic drainage, this delicate system is sometimes not able to meet the demands of the body following invasive procedures.
During the breast cancer journey, massage therapy can be of tremendous value. Anxiety, depression, and fatigue are as much emotional states as they are physical ones. As such, massage therapy can help a patient manage their emotional stress during diagnosis and course of medical treatment.
Additionally, anger, resentment, bitterness, helplessness, rage, sadness, or grief are all part of the process and carry their own physical charge. The full spectrum of emotion serves a purpose and the ability to navigate through these emotions is vital for the quality of a patient's life.
Numerous studies have shown that how we choose to think & feel impacts our biochemistry which affects our physical health & well-being. It is important to experience what we label as 'negative' emotion, and it is equally helpful to reach for practices and strategies that help to ease these feelings in the body as much as possible. Experiencing taxing emotions on a consistent basis depletes our energy and becomes detrimental to our immediate and long term health.
For woman going through breast cancer, psycho-social and emotional support is vital. Fortunately there are numerous resources available for women in addition to the support of their family & friends.
Prior to the start of a patient's cancer treatment, fascial work and manual lymph drainage can help prepare the body for the changes that are about to occur. Strengthening the lymphatic system means that the body is better able to absorb any permanent modifications. We work on the secondary pathways that will kick in naturally once the primary channels are compromised. I activate those on both arms after activating the exit points of the system in the neck region.
Additionally, at some point prior to surgery I ensure that the patient's fascia is as supple as possible. Healthy fascia is essential for the optimal function of the lymphatic system. Restricted fascia can create a barrier through which the lymphatic fluid must pass. By easing and/or eliminating these barriers prior to surgery, the lymphatic system is then in a better position to meet the fluid demands of the body post-surgically.
During Cancer Treatment~
During a client's chemotherapy and radiation therapy periods, the massage treatments address presenting symptoms on any given day. Modifications are made based on the opinion of the patient's doctor, the type of cancer being treated, and the patient's level of physical activity during medical treatment.
The massage sessions focus on soothing and calming the nervous system and reducing tension using gentler techniques. They are strategically scheduled so they are beneficial rather than taxing.
The benefits of receiving massage therapy during cancer treatment are numerous. They include symptom relief caused by radiation, chemotherapy, and/or surgery, pain reduction/control, lessening of the musculoskeletal effects, improved ability to manage stress and anxiety, and time spent in a safe and nurturing environment.
Residual pain, swelling, numbness, tissue restrictions, scarring, and tension are treated through the integration of Fascial Remodeling, specific muscular work, general swedish massage, hydrotherapy when indicated, and Manual Lymph Drainage.
For women who develop Secondary Lymlphedema, my training in Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT) can help them manage their symptoms. CDT uses a combination of Manual Lymph Drainage, Compression Bandaging, Exercise Therapy, and Skin Care. The treatments help to reduce a patient's limb to the smallest size possible. From there the effects are maintained through the patient's use of a compression sleeve.
Here are two videos that illustrate the use of massage therapy for breast cancer rehabilitation. I started working with Karen just before she had her double mastectomy surgery. The use of Manual Lymph Drainage prepared her lymphatic system for the procedure. Following her surgery, we continued using MLD to reinforce the drainage of the affected arm and to reduce the tension and swelling in her chest area. Eventually we began to incorporate Fascial Remodeling. In Part 2 Karen describes the physical results of her massage therapy treatments. In Part 3 Karen addresses how the treatments helped her to emotionally recover.
To view more treatment results please visit my youtube channel.