Breast Cancer: After Survival

The statistics can be overwhelming.  2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer live in the US and one in eight women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime.

The good news is that great strides have been made in saving lives.  But often lifesaving treatment comes with a price.  According to the American Cancer Society, “Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects.  Some may last for a few weeks to months, but others can last the rest of your life”.  This is the elephant in the room no one talks about.

Long-term side effects from surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are common among survivors.  Perhaps the most common are those due to scar tissue.  Current breast cancer research (compiled by Breast tells us that,  “Radiation therapy can cause scar tissue to form”.  Surgical scars can cause, “stiffness, pressure, and nerve pain or numbness if scar tissue forms around nerves”.  Central venous catheters used to deliver chemotherapy drugs can create problematic scarring as well.

mastectomy 1After recovery, women hesitate to talk about how long-term side effects change their lives.  Discussions about physical pain, loss of range of motion, and new back or neck pain rarely take place outside online forums or support groups for survivors. Despite friends’ and family’s good intentions, some women feel pressure from society to appear stoic and grateful they survived, no matter the cost.   Others assume they must give up activities they enjoyed before breast cancer because they’ve become painful.

Traditional physical therapy is regularly prescribed by doctors when a woman asks for help.  When the results of physical therapy are limited, she often feels hopeless and frustrated.  Leading her to wonder, “Does quality of life always have to diminish after breast cancer surgery or radiation treatment?”.

If John Barnes Myofascial Release is part of the plan, the answer is no.  To understand why it helps, we need to look at the healing process and how scar tissue forms.  After the trauma of surgery or radiation, the body begins producing collagen to repair damage in the wound.  Collagen fibers are microscopically welded together, one filament to another, producing cross-links that begin building the scar.  This is followed by a period of remodeling where the scar changes to fit the tissue.  Ideally, the repair should be strong, but have enough flexibility to allow movement.

When the repair (scar) becomes stuck to healthy tissues it can cause the loss of range of motion, pain, and pressure on nerves women experience after breast cancer treatment.  Adhesions in the fascia (a webbing of connective tissue throughout the body) which prevent movement can pull on healthy tissue in other parts of the body leading to neck, shoulder, and back pain.

fascia2John Barnes Myofascial Release uses gentle stretching for a minimum of 3-5 minutes, releasing the elasto-collagen complex.  The scar quickly becomes unstuck from surrounding healthy tissue. After a few sessions,  layers of muscle and fascia  begin to glide against one another with ease.  Dense scar tissue left by radiation becomes more pliable, allowing better circulation of blood and lymph.  Pressure on sensitive nerves is eased over time.

Even years after surgery and radiation, the body will respond to the gentle techniques used in John Barnes Myofascial Release.  Generally the longer side effects have been present, the longer it will take for a woman to become completely pain-free.  However, adding daily self-myofascial release to her wellness regimen will speed the results exponentially.

Remember,  survivors DO have the power to reclaim their quality of life!

*Learn more about what happens during and after surgery in these fascinating video clips from the 2007 Fascial Research Conference at Harvard Medical School.




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