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by Susan C. Clinton PT DScPT OCS WCS FAAOMPT

Rebecca Stephenson has served in many leadership roles within her profession as a Women’s Health Physical Therapist. Included in these positions she served on the Board of Directors of the APTA Section on Women’s Health and as a delegate and President of the International Organization for Physical Therapists in Women’s Health (IOPTWH). She is also a very busy clinician and a strong advocate for Women’s rights. It is no wonder she has committed herself to the work of the Global Women’s Health Initiative both as a Board Member and as a donor! What you may not know about Rebecca is that she is also a breast cancer survivor. The GWHI is focusing this newsletter on Women’s Health and cancer. This very dedicated physical therapist sat down with us to talk about her past personal struggles as well as her hope and advocacy for Women facing cancer.

Rebecca, when and how did you find out about your breast cancer?

I actually had two separate diagnoses of breast cancer in 2003 and 2007. Cancer in 2003 was discovered by a routine mammogram and cancer in 2007 was found by my own self-exam.

What were your main concerns after being diagnosed?

My biggest concern was which treatment regime to do following the earlier diagnosis. I was given the choice of a single mastectomy, double mastectomy, or lumpectomy with chemotherapy and radiation. I chose the lumpectomy and followed all of the treatments with tamoxifen for 4 years. In hindsight, if I knew that I would later be diagnosed with breast cancer on the opposite breast in 2007, I would have opted for the complete double mastectomy early on. Following my second diagnosis, I did opt for the double mastectomy and implants at the time of the surgery.

The information coming at me was enormous. One of the best things I did to help me absorb the information and make decisions was to take a friend as a scribe to record the amount of information that was difficult to process.

How did your family react to the news?

In my blended family, I had three older sons and a young son at the age of 8. The information for my younger son to process created more fear than for the older two. My husband and I handled the information with honesty about the diagnosis, prognosis, and complete explanation of the treatment options I had selected. We also shared the lifestyle restrictions that would ultimately affect our family during the treatment and recovery phase and encouraged them to be a part of the recovery process.

What coping strategies helped you the most throughout your treatment?

One of the lessons learned in my spiritual life was the following quote: “ You are only willing to give what you are willing to receive”. This concept became a reality during this time of healing. I was able to create a web of support that helped me and my family work through the difficult times when I needed to concentrate on my treatment and recovery. In addition, I was able to work with my employers and my Physicians to take the time I needed to focus on recovery instead of work. I also had my Mother and Sister to care for me on my own and my family needs to assist in facilitating my care. Finally, I put my meditation practice into the forefront of my life along with the ability to find joy in my everyday existence with myself and my family/friends.

What advice would you like to give to Women about breast cancer?

Please, please do not let the fear of diagnosis hold you back from taking action! Early diagnosis, as in my case twice, was the key! Nothing replaces screening tests and self-exams. If you sense a problem, please take action! Breast cancer does not have to be terminal and treatment can allow you to continue to live a full and wonderful life.

How can other Women help to raise awareness about breast cancer?

My best advice for the future is to talk to our youth, both young women and men. The more we know and share the less fear there will be in seeking treatment. Keep in mind that 1% of all breast cancer is in males. If we are able to raise awareness we can move towards solving this disease across the globe.

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