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Preparing to Fight

In celebration of Christina Kuzma’s successful fight against breast cancer at the age of 33, Tx:Team brings you Part Two of our weekly series to share her experience making decisions about her treatment. 

These days, Christina Kuzma is at work like usual, hosting meetings, educating whomever she can about Tx:Team services, and plugging in a radiation treatment where they fit. She’s doing extremely well but it has been a long road to get to this point.  From her month of “scanxiety” in February after receiving her diagnosis to feeling like she’d been hit by a truck throughout her 4 months of chemotherapy, Christina faced incredible pains in her mind and in her body. But before she could tackle her cancer, she knew that she had to get her head right. Her motto was simple, which kept her focused: “I won’t back down.” And with that, she prepared herself to fight by placing her trust in the treatment plan and her physical therapy regime.

LIVING LIFE NORMALLY, BUT WITH A LITTLE EXTRA UMPH

If you’re already humming Tom Petty, you’re right there with Christina. Petty’s song, “I Won’t Back Down” strengthened her during the toughest weeks of chemotherapy. He’s a big deal in the Kuzma family. Just this past month, Christina’s daughter, at 3 years old, proudly declared that she was going as Tom Petty for Halloween.

Well, I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground
And I won’t back down

 

The Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey” was a second anthem. Some days, carrying on with normal activities during chemo was really hard. However, the sun was still shining and her heart was still beating, so Christina echoed Garcia: “I will get by, and I will survive this day!”

To keep things normal, Christina launched her favorite saying: “controlling the controllables.” Amongst the loss of control that is cancer, she took hold of what she could.

Most importantly, she continued working during chemo. She arranged Thursday infusions so that she could take Fridays off and rest over the weekends. Even so, Mondays were agonizing, and Tuesdays weren’t easy either- like “the worst hangover of your life.” To combat the soreness and fatigue, Christina picked up yoga. Yoga helped her stretch her aching joints. She also opted for cold cap therapy, a non-invasive scalp cooling technique. Keeping her hair was exactly the mind trick she needed. When she didn’t look sick, she didn’t feel as sick. She could look in the mirror and feel like herself. And that extra boost of energy during treatment made a world of difference.

CHRISTINA’S SURGERY

On August 10, 2018, Christina had a bilateral mastectomy and began reconstruction.  Her breast surgeon removed all of her breast tissue and 4 lymph nodes to test for any cancer remaining after chemotherapy. Next, the plastic surgeon inserted expanders, which are temporary implants that stretch the skin and optimize radiation treatment. Christina verifies, “Expanders are about as comfortable as they sound. They feel like two bowls just sitting in your chest.” Finally, a drainage tube was inserted on each side of the breast to collect the fluid that gathers after surgery. Altogether, the surgery lasted 6 hours and left her body exhausted and in pain.

In typical Kuzma fashion, Christina focused on the best part of her surgery. She and her family had a small win to celebrate big time- the biopsied tissue came back with zero traces of cancer. Christina’s body had a complete response to the chemotherapy. She paused to reflect on the past months, and at 33 years old, watching as her life flashed before her eyes, she felt aged and wiser. The small stuff is everything, and you’ve got to appreciate the simple things that saturate life in emotion and meaning.

SHE CHOSE PT

Christina’s recovery began full-force on Day 1 in the hospital. The overwhelming pain that follows a surgery like the one Christina had can lead a patient to consider stronger medications for relief.  Christina had concluded that stronger pain relievers would not serve her as well as physical therapy could in the long run. The day after surgery, Christina cut off her opioid pain medication, had her first meeting with a physical therapist, and began managing her pain with Tylenol. The therapist introduced exercises for her to practice 3 times a day and she progressed daily.

After all her body had been through in surgery, Christina started basic exercises to soothe her lymphatic system: stretching the neck, deep breathing, and massage. She also made a point to move her arms immediately.  Even simple things like eating, brushing her teeth, and combing her hair were taxing. While on a bed, she held her arm above her heart for 45+ minutes. A specially created pillow helped to keep her arm in place, which significantly decreased swelling. And of course, the trusted Tx:Team stress ball came in handy. Katie Guerdan, Manager of HR at Tx:Team, dropped it off in a get-well basket with the challenge to use it. Christina built up to 25 squeezes. By Day 3 post-operation, she was able to begin chest exercises.

In 2 weeks’ time, Christina regained about half of her full range of motion and she could finally wash her hair by herself! A small, but huge win for Christina, for which she was so grateful. That weekend, with drains still in place, she was eager to get busy living.  She went out with her family on their boat, content to watch the world around her, and appreciate getting back to living the normal life of Christina Kuzma.

Physical Therapy: A Better Solution for Pain

In celebration of Christina Kuzma’s successful fight against breast cancer at the age of 33, Tx:Team begins a weekly series to share her experience making decisions about her treatment.  Christina is the Manager of Business Development at Tx:Team, and more than that, she is the catalyst for making things happen  – an entrepreneur, easily connecting with others and quick to inspire them to be their best.  It’s no surprise then that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Christina explored all treatment strategies and committed to one that she believes in. She hopes that more people will consider her approach, especially if they find themselves in similar circumstances to hers in the beginning of 2018.  Being honest about her “crappy 2018” is a strong suit, so we’ll come to understand how the months since Christina’s diagnosis on February 5, 2018, have pained her body, given life to the small stuff, and ultimately transformed her into a different person. 

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Aquatic Therapy Can Help Get You Back to…

There is no worse feeling than the aching pain that won’t go away, prevents you from accomplishing everyday tasks, and keeps you from doing the activities you love. If you have recently been injured or identified with having a debilitating diagnosis, aquatic therapy may be your answer to a pain-free lifestyle and get back to the activities you enjoy.

Diagnoses for Patients who benefit from Aquatic Rehabilitationaquatic therapy

Spinal Issues: Thoracic, Cervical, and Lumbar Spine Issues, Posture Issues, Spine Compression Fractures, Herniated Discs, and Spinal Stenosis

Imagine you are floating vertically in the pool using a floatation device. Since you are not touching the bottom, the water decreases the effect of gravity on the spine and creates traction. This process removes the pain you are feeling so you can now focus on learning the therapist’s exercises and doing them appropriately. Core stabilization will be the focal point of your exercises as it permits increased trunk/back movement with less pain due to the warmth, buoyancy, and pressure of the water.

Lymphedema Issues

If you have lymphedema issues, you may be experiencing swelling in your extremities. When you find yourself in the SwimEx Pool, you will notice a decrease in the swelling due to the hydrostatic pressure, making it easier and less painful to do strength exercises. This decrease in swelling will also make walking much easier.

Foot and Ankle Issues: Achilles Tendon Repairs or Tears and Toe, Foot, or Ankle Fractures

Typically, your doctor will give you weight bearing restrictions and you will most likely need a device to assist you while you walk and/or a boot. However, due to the anti-gravity properties of the water, you would not have to adhere to the restrictions. Other positive effects would be a decrease in swelling and less painful side effects. The pool helps you recover much faster because it allows you to work on balance in the early stages of recovery. Normally, patients have a hard time working on this if they are not in the pool due to the stress and pain of their foot or ankle.

Knee or Hip Replacements: ACL Repairs, Arthroscopic Repairs of Hip/Knee, and Patellar Tendon Repairs

The water provides a good environment to work on range of motion, stretching, and strengthen of these tender areas. An important distinction between aquatic and land therapy is the level of soreness associated with each, with aquatic causing much less soreness. Also, aquatic therapy allows you to perform most exercises sooner than on land with much less pain, getting you back to normal in much less time.

Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain patients

Normally physical therapy is the last straw for this type of diagnosis. However, physical therapy in the pool should be one of the first choices since it will help you build stamina, endurance, and strength and manage your pain.

There are many more diagnoses that can be treated utilizing aquatic therapy. If you are not able to tolerate the pain associated with land therapy, aquatic therapy is an excellent alternative due to the anti-gravity environment. You will feel less pain and pressure in the pool and be able to make progress sooner than typical land therapy.

Get the therapy you need so that you can get back to your day-to-day routine and the actives you love. The goal of any rehabilitation team is to get you back to doing the activities you enjoy. Swinging a tennis racket. Walking through the woods. Peddling a bike around town. Pushing a cart down the grocery aisle. Even folding laundry! No matter the activity, enjoy life!

The ultimate goal of any therapy program is to get you back to _______ .   What is your blank?

Contributors: Morgan Thompson, Amelia Iams, DPT, Cynthia Brendle, PTA