Your Body After Breast Cancer: “This Wasn’t in the Brochure” or “Reaching For That Wine Glass”

November 14, 2022

This is a recording of “Your Body After Breast Cancer: This Wasn’t in the Brochure or Reaching For That Wine Glass” a Zoom presentation held on October 19, 2022.

Below is an excerpt of a presentation given by Megan Belanger and Jaclyn Delrosario, who discuss breast cancer and the potential changes it may have on the body. Learn about the changes that occur after radiation and surgery, the formation of scars and how to handle axillary web syndrome, why lymphedema occurs and how to seek treatments and relief.

Thank you so much. We’re going to introduce ourselves in a minute, but first I want to say thank you to Beth and the folks at Dinno Health for hosting us! We are really honored to be talking about something that we’re so passionate about, which is rehabilitative care for cancer. We see folks with all kinds of cancer diagnoses, but tonight we are going to focus specifically on breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and according to the World Health Organization, as of 2021, breast cancer became the most common type of cancer in 2021. Now we’ve given this talk to breast cancer support groups and we realize that not everybody on this call might have had a direct experience with breast cancer, but as we’re talking tonight we’re going to keep that “you” language instead of saying a client or a patient because I feel like it puts us in a space of empathy and to kind of think about what it might be like to have a glimpse into what someone’s experienced might be with breast cancer.

So let’s say that you are done with breast cancer treatment. You’ve maybe had a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. You might have had multiple rounds of chemo. Maybe you’ve had radiation or you’ve had all three of these things and you’re told you are done with treatment and you get to ring that bell in the hospital. You are planning a celebratory dinner with your family and you’re like, “yes I got to the finish line!” and you go to reach for that wine glass, it’s up on that high shelf in your house and you’re like but I can’t quite get there. I feel like there’s this pulling happening. I can’t quite reach as far as I used to before or maybe you’re blow drying your hair and you’re thinking that I can’t quite get my arm where I used to before. Maybe driving feels a little bit different or maybe it’s harder to get comfortable when you’re sleeping and you’re thinking I didn’t know that this might happen. Maybe you were told that something like this might happen, but you didn’t know what you might be able to do about it.

To briefly introduce ourselves, we are One River Massage Therapy, and we’re located in Westborough, Massachusetts. We specialize in care for folks with cancer histories, lymphedema, lipedema and other complex medical conditions. I’m Megan Belanger, I’m an oncology massage therapist and a lymphedema therapist and I’ve been doing this work for a little bit over ten years. I’m Jaclyn Delrosario and I am an occupational therapist and certified lymphedema therapist and I’ve been doing oncology rehab for the past five years.

What we hear from clients, patients and the cancer community in general is that sometimes there is a lack of focus on rehabilitation or resources for post-cancer quality of life. There can be a feeling of hey we cut the cancer out, the tumors are gone and we’re all done here, good luck. That’s not a knock on our oncologists and our radiation oncologists and our oncological surgeons. We are so grateful that they do the work that they do. The work that they do is wonderful and we are grateful that they are focused on that, but maybe you’re not being told about things like less range of motion in your arm or in your chest like we talked about with the wine glass and blow drying your hair. Those tightness or pulling sensations.

Sometimes that’s happening down the armpit, sometimes down the side of your body or on or around incisions or your radiation field. Sometimes folks will say it feels like there’s an elastic band that’s just pulling around their rib cage. There might be changes in your sin, some places where the color is different, where there’s some extra pigmentation. The skin might feel denser or tighter in some places or there might be some scarring and we’ll talk about scars a little bit more tonight. There may be lower energy levels or maybe you find you’re unable to do as many things in a day as you used to without needing to call it a day or take breaks in between. Maybe you just have sort of that feeling that you’re dragging more than normal and then you have the risk of lymphedema or the signs of possible lymphedema.

To continue learning about breast cancer and the potential changes it may have on your body, watch the full presentation.