Inspired by her Mother’s Journey, Physical Therapist Supports Breast Cancer Patients in Recovery
Physical therapy is often known for helping patients recover from heart conditions, strokes, or orthopedic treatments. For Jolynn Miller, a physical therapist at St. Vincent, her work specializes in supporting cancer patients with a focus on helping those in treatment and recovery from breast cancer.
"This is a group of patients that need a lot of support. Our breast cancer patients go through a lot, from chemo to radiation and surgery," said Miller. "My job is to help them with a better quality of life during their journey. Although they may still be in recovery, we want to help them get to a point where they can do the things they enjoy and feel well enough to say 'Yes, I can do this.'"
For Miller, her work is personal. Watching her mother undergo breast cancer treatment inspired her to learn more about physical therapy for cancer patients and receive certifications in the practice.
"Although she has been cancer-free for 16 years, my mom still has physical effects of her treatment," said Miller. "Through my certifications, I have learned how cancer and its treatments impact our patients' bodies and cause some common side effects. With this understanding, my work is to help patients manage some of these challenges. It could be weakness, pain, or fatigue, and we work through it."
Jolynn Miller, right, pictured with her mother
For Bonny Moore of Red Lodge, her ongoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer has been challenging. Still, her work with Miller has helped her maintain a positive attitude and a sense of control over the side effects of her surgery and treatment.
Moore has been working on and off with Miller for the last two years. After being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, Moore underwent chemotherapy and had a mastectomy in December 2020. In recovery from surgery, she started to work with Miller and then came back for additional treatment once she found that her cancer had spread and was undergoing further treatment.
Moore lives an active outdoor lifestyle with teenage children at home and grandkids in Georgia. One of her hopes for this year is to work with Miller to get back on her mountain bike.
"It has been working great! The therapy gives me power and the confidence that I can do this," said Moore. “My goal is to keep myself strong and healthy. I have a lot to live for.”
Bonny Moore with her children
Miller's work with Moore has been to improve movement and pain in her neck and chest and to help control lymphedema, a common side effect for patients during and after breast cancer treatment.
During breast cancer treatment, lymph nodes under the arm may be removed or treated with radiation, causing the lymph system to not function properly, leading to fluid buildup, swelling, and pain in the arm, chest, and armpit. Moore has seen dramatic improvement from her physical therapy treatments and wants others to understand its benefits.
"When you are first diagnosed, you feel like 'what now?'," shared Moore. "Once you have a plan, you feel so much better. And physical therapy is one of the tools you can have in your toolbox when going through treatment. It can give you more control over the side effects. "
In addition to her physical therapy, Moore has changed how she eats and exercises to improve her stamina and mental health and shared that going through this journey has helped deepen her faith.
"Everything is different once you wrap your head around the fact that your life is going to change," said Moore about being diagnosed with breast cancer. "I know it may be surprising, but my life has changed for the better through this."
The physical therapy treatments have also greatly benefited Jillian Nelson of Columbus, who is receiving ongoing therapies for metastatic breast cancer and had a double mastectomy.
"The surgery and treatments really tick off your nerves and cause problems with your lymphatic system," said Nelson. "The physical therapy has been extremely beneficial in helping to loosen up and untack the skin from my muscles as well as draining and redirecting the lymphatic fluid."
During Nelson's appointments, Miller uses massage and cupping methods in her treatments.
"I would tell anyone going through these procedures that they can benefit from physical therapy," said Nelson. "Not only does it help with managing pain, but it helps in getting back range of motion in your arms, which is so important for everyday life."
Nelson, a mother with young children, also shared how her cancer treatment has impacted her relationships, faith, and perspective on life. "Every day is a new day to make the best of life with my family and friends, but most importantly, my Father in heaven. He's the glue that holds me together and keeps me strong."
With many of her patients, Miller develops long-term close relationships, often working with them for years as they undergo treatment and recovery.
"I will continue to work with Jolynn until she tells me that I can't benefit from her services, and then I will cry," Nelson joked.
And for Miller, the focus is always on the patient. "When I first see my patients, the conversation starts with where they want to go. My goals are always driven by their goals, and that is what we work towards together."