Three weeks ago, Bonnie Ferg of Clintonville was able to hold her three-year-old grandson. It was the first time since last December she was able to hold him properly.
“He put his head on my shoulder and said ‘You back. You back,'” she recalled. “It was a big deal to me.”
Ferg, 56, is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in June 2014 and had a double mastectomy as well as chemotherapy, which she is still undergoing until the end of this year.
After her surgery, Ferg noticed she was having difficulty lifting her arms.
“I know I needed help but I looked,” she said. “Nobody could absolutely tell me where to go. It took us a while to figure it out.”
After two months of looking and researching her issue, she went back to her surgeon at Appleton Medical Center (AMC) and was referred to the certified lymphedema physical therapists at ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus.
“Because I didn’t know where to go, I put off therapy,” she said. “If you don’t know where to go, it’s an awful thing.”
The therapists determined a couple reasons for Ferg’s issue and used techniques to improve her arms by 70 percent.
“I couldn’t even lift my arms,” she said. “It’s truly amazing.”
She praised her physical therapists Cheryl Gess and Teresa Iattoni at ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus in Appleton. Gess and Iattoni not only helped her regain the use of her arms but supported her along the tough journey.
“They saved me,” she said, noting they are more than physical therapists but ones who listened and understood. “They are like (mental health) therapists. They have walked me through it all.”
Gess said she is encouraged and inspired by patient stories like Ferg’s.
“It was exciting to watch her progress,” she said. “I am proud of her and proud I could be a part of her journey. Cancer in itself is a tough diagnosis and can be very debilitating. We want to provide positive rehabilitation experiences that help Bonnie and other cancer survivors regain their normal activities. “
A physical therapy evaluation of Ferg revealed she had limited shoulder range of motion due to her surgery and axillary web syndrome, or cording. Gess and Iattoni helped improve Ferg’s flexibility through manual therapy such as myofascial release, soft tissue mobilization, scar mobilization and joint mobilization. These techniques provided gentle glides to help stretch the tissue.
“That was a huge part because she couldn’t do that herself,” said Gess, adding she also taught Ferg stretching and strengthening exercises she could do between appointments, “which was important for her to become independent from therapy.”
Also, because of chemotherapy, Ferg had developed neuropathy of her fingers.
“When she would reach for a cup, she couldn’t gauge how much to grip or did not have the dexterity to hold a knife,” said Gess. “We are fortunate that the Appleton Medical Center Foundation purchased us a machine called anodyne that uses infrared light to help stimulate circulation to the fingers. Anodyne, in conjunction with physical therapy, improved her ability to sense her fingertips.”
The team also called on an occupational therapist, who helped her hand dexterity with the use of desensitization through vibration technique and fluidotherapy.
Gess said Ferg was educated about the risk of lymphedema, a condition that can cause swelling in the arm, torso or hand after cancer treatment. She was not diagnosed with the condition but it is something she does need to be aware of. Those with lymphedema should seek treatment by certified lymphedema therapists such as those at ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus.
She said cancer patients like Ferg can benefit from physical therapy services.
“I am so glad we could make a difference,” said Gess.