Sheryl Thomas wants people to know that even though she’s had a double mastectomy and completed chemotherapy treatment, she’s not “better.”
“They might see me in the store pushing a cart, and my hair’s grown back and they think I’m fine. But they don’t realize I’m using the cart to steady myself so I can walk and that I had to take a pain pill before I came because I knew I was going to be on my feet part of the day.”
Despite this, she has a positive attitude. The spunky, 58-year-old readily makes jokes at her own expense, whether it’s about losing all her teeth and having to wear dentures or talking about her new, surgically-enhanced chest. “How many 58 year olds do you know that don’t need to wear a bra?” she says with a laugh. “I try to have fun and make jokes rather than get down about my situation. And they say laughter is the best medicine.”
Thomas is a patient of physical therapist Susan Quinlan at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital–Audrain. Quinlan works with Thomas as part of the oncology rehabilitation program.
The hospital began offering oncology rehabilitation several years ago at the request of the J.B. and Greeta B. Arthur Cancer Center (now the SSM Health Cancer Center).
“After undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, cancer patients are really weak. Exercise is recommended, but there’s no guidelines on what to do, and patients can be afraid of overexerting themselves,” Quinlan said. “They are typically depressed and frustrated that they can’t be as active as they once were because of fatigue and just generally feeling unwell. And that’s where we come in. We like to say that the physicians save their lives, but we help them live it again.”
The program is part of the outpatient rehabilitation services offered by the hospital. Cancer rehabilitation specifically focuses on restoring physical function and independence. Most cancer patients benefit from some type of therapy, especially those suffering from pain, joint restrictions, scar tissue, radiation tightness, neuropathy, Lymphedema, loss of strength, mobility, or endurance. Depending on the diagnosis or treatment, rehabilitation may begin immediately after surgery or it may be started during or following chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment.
Quinlan sees Thomas about once a week because she travels from Paris, Mo., for the service. But, patients can be seen 2-3 times per week as needed.
“They are so wonderful here, and my therapists are so compassionate,” Thomas said. “I’ve learned a lot about what my body is capable of. I’ve already gained strength back in my arms, hands and my core.”
While Thomas has not been able to return to work, oncology rehabilitation can help others go back to work and resume their daily activities more quickly. And a regular exercise program can even reduce the chance of cancer recurrence.
As for Thomas, she wants to continue her rehabilitation as long as she can. “I’m not ready to stop. I know it’s helping me and I want to keep going.”
For questions or more information about the Oncology Rehabilitation program, please call 573-582-8888.