Rehab Insights is a weekly blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. It's goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

DivaCare Champions Rehabilitation After Breast Cancer Treatment

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a disease that over 250,000 individuals are diagnosed with every year in the United States. One of Burke’s own physicians was recently diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, and decided to turn her experience into a passion to help and empower others.

Carolin Dohle, M.D., Associate Director of Burke’s Stroke Rehabilitation Program was diagnosed at 37 years old with stage 1 breast cancer. After meeting with multiple doctors and getting a couple of opinions, she made the decision to have a lumpectomy, during which five lymph nodes were removed. After the removal, she underwent six weeks of radiation treatment. After treatment, her doctors were happy to tell her that she was clear and cured of the cancer. However, after trying to return to her daily life, she noticed that she had pain and decreased range of motion in her arm.

As a mother of a two and half year old, she didn’t know how she could get back to her daily life with the pain and inability to move her arm as she used to be able to. She dealt with a couple of bouts of early stage lymphedema. The pain continued to get worse, and without information and advice from her treating doctors, she decided to search on her own for why this was happening and how to get help.

Although none of her doctors spoke to her about rehabilitation or care after treatment, Dr. Dohle found out about rehabilitative physical therapy and how it could reduce the pain and increase mobility. She worked with Carolyn Storms, a Burke physical therapist specializing in treating women after cancer, and was able to return to the state she was in prior to her breast cancer diagnosis. Since typically everybody involved in the cancer treatment process is focused on survival, the surgery and treatment, Dr. Dohle knew it was important to share with others the importance of the life changing physical therapy rehabilitation that she had. That is where the DivaCare initiative was born.

DivaCare’s mission is to make resources available to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and need guidance and support. Dr. Dohle and other rehabilitation champions want to accompany women through their breast cancer journey, from diagnosis through rehabilitation so that they may return to their normal daily lives. On DivaCare’s website and Facebook, information is shared about the treatment of breast cancer, the importance of post-treatment physical therapy as well as tips and tricks to manage the treatment side effects.

DivaCare’s main goal is to create an app which will provide videos of safe exercises for survivors and share information on the importance of rehabilitation after breast cancer treatment. These exercise videos, which will gradually progress in difficulty to help survivors rebuild their strength, increase mobility and reduce pain, will be available to be discussed and completed with the guidance of a physical therapist.

Dr. Dohle and the DivaCare team strongly believe that there is a large gap between finishing treatment as a cancer patient and participating in normal daily life. Once she finished treatment, Dr. Dohle fell out of the large and readily accessible network that was available to answer questions and walk her through her journey. Rehabilitation plays a large role in bridging that gap, alleviating the side effects of treatment and offering a support system to answer questions and provide resources.

DivaCare is currently fundraising to develop their app. To support their effort, please click here

Burke Rehabilitation Hospital has an Outpatient Lymphedema Program staffed by certified lymphedema therapists who implement a Complete Decongestive Therapy approach with each of their patients. A full lymphedema assessment will be done at the initial evaluation, and a comprehensive care plan will be created based on the patient’s unique needs. Click here to learn more about the program.

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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice.

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