Therapist revolutionizes cancer recovery

September 19, 2008 10:22:02 AM PDT
If you or anyone you know is at risk for developing breast cancer then you'll want to pay close attention to our next story. A San Francisco physical therapist is revolutionizing recovery from breast cancer surgery. She's become so good at it, that doctors and surgeons are now taking note.

Some people will tell you physical therapist Julie Wong is a miracle worker.

Client Debbie Calgaro is one of them. During Calgaro's mastectomy in April, some of her abdominal muscles were removed to be used for breast reconstruction.

"In the beginning, it was very difficult to reach and to standup straight because of the abdomen problems," said Calgaro.

She came to Wong last month.

"I'm now able to reach and I'm in a yoga class and am able to move considerably better," said Calgaro.

Wong's search for a therapy specifically for those who've had breast cancer surgery began shortly after her mastectomy in 2003. One year, and numerous therapists later, she still had swelling, scarring and nerve problems. She researched what exactly happens to a woman's body following the various types of breast surgery and discovered what needed to be done, and who needed to do it.

"You may see different practitioners where they will work on just the fascia, or just the lymph system or just the shoulder, but not the whole body, but I do," said Wong.

The various therapy protocols developed by Wong are getting rave reviews from specialists at the UCSF Cancer Center; Dr. Michelle Melisko is assistant clinical professor of medicine.

"Our patients enjoy working with her. I have amazing feedback from the patients about how different the experience was compared to other therapists. She doesn't follow the cookbook for what's been taught in physical therapy," said Melisko.

Another medical opinion comes from Marie Retherford, an emergency room nurse at Children's Hospital in Oakland and a client of Julie Wong.

"Without Julie, I don't know where I'd be right now," said Retherford.

A breast cancer survivor herself, Retherford says Wong's therapies have caught the attention of some surgeons.

"What's happened now is that Julie has started to teach the doctors what they can do during surgery, so women don't have to have so many post op complications," said Retherford.

Wong's hair has come a long way since it all fell out during chemotherapy - five years ago. But this weekend, the hair is getting cut.

"I'm going cut it this Sunday during the Race for a Cure and donate it to Locks of Love as inspiration to others for choosing life and moving on," said Wong.

So if you see Julie at the Race for the Cure in San Francisco on Sunday, reach your hand way above your head, and wave - all her clients do it.


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