Story by: Norton Healthcare on December 7, 2021
Before her cancer diagnosis, Cathy Brown traveled every week for work. The physically demanding schedule had her hustling through airports, jumping to one city after another.
Cathy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, and when it returned in 2019, it had spread into her chest wall. She underwent chemotherapy, then a major surgery to remove the tumor, surrounding tissue, part of her sternum and parts of three ribs. The surgery was followed by 26 radiation treatments.
Cathy, 57, knew the cancer and treatment had taken a physical toll. She didn’t realize how much, though, until she went to KORT’s cancer rehabilitation clinic in Bardstown, Kentucky, and got her initial assessment from physical therapist Melanie Booker.
“Before, I would run through the airport, and the physical therapist now was timing how long it would take to get from one end of the carpet to the other end of the carpet,” Cathy recalled. “I cried that day. I hadn’t cried through the whole cancer treatment, but I cried that day.”
Because the cancer had spread to Cathy’s chest wall, Jeffrey B. Hargis, M.D., oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute, warned Cathy that the treatment would need to be very aggressive.
“Cancer just takes its toll in so many different ways,” Cathy said. “Chemo sometimes causes neuropathy (numbness) in the fingers and toes. It also can affect strength and muscle tone. The surgery really impacted me, and it still does to this day. In addition to taking out part of the ribs and sternum, I had over 2,000 sutures during surgery.”
Cathy’s strength, balance and range of motion all were affected by the cancer and her treatment. To regain as much as she could of what she’d lost, Cathy went to KORT’s cancer rehab clinic multiple times a week for six months.
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On that first day at KORT, when she had her assessment, Cathy was not only sad at how weak she was, but angry at what the cancer had taken from her. Melanie, the physical therapist, persuaded her to use the anger as motivation.
“My therapist was just phenomenal. It became a friendship. I knew Melanie really had my back. It’s just a lot to go through and you feel so vulnerable dealing with the aftermath,” Cathy said.
With Melanie, Cathy worked on her strength, balance and endurance, focusing on different muscle groups and her core. The physical therapy sessions gave Cathy a sense of purpose.
“It gave me something to look forward to,” Cathy said. “It also kind of gave me some structure, which was good for someone who is used to getting up and going to work. It gave me something to look forward to.”
The rehab was hard work. Cathy would be sore for a couple of days, but she knew she was making progress toward her goal of getting back to work.
When she was ready, Cathy decided to work for a nonprofit. She now works in Elizabethtown for a child advocacy center, coordinating interviews with children who have been sexually abused.
“At the end of the day, we make a big difference,” said Cathy, who lives on a farm in Glendale, Kentucky, near Elizabethtown, with her husband, John, who grows corn and soybeans.
Barely able to make it from one side of a room to another when she started physical therapy last year, Cathy now regularly goes on 4-mile walks. Her only regret is not starting physical therapy earlier.
“I take it one day at a time. I’m thankful and I’m grateful to see where I came from and that I’m back in the workforce and I’m doing really, really good,” Cathy said.
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