From Urinary Retention to Breast Cancer—How Physical Therapy Shaped Danielle's Recovery


By: Danielle, a Sarton Physical Therapy patient & breast cancer survivor

Below is a bravely recollected account of Danielle’s journey with pelvic floor physical therapy. What started as treatment for severe urinary retention turned into an even greater battle when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.

Watch or read below to hear about Danielle’s journey before, during and after pelvic floor dysfunction and breast cancer.

Read the interview transcript here:

What to expect when starting pelvic floor physical therapy | your first pelvic floor physical therapy appointment

What Motivated You To Start Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy?

Well, I'm just actually, I'm like I'm a homemaker. I've actually been I stay home with my boys and over the years. And they're older now, so I'm at the point now I'm like, "Okay. It’s time for mom to get a job.” But I was actually I have severe urinary retention. And it was like really, really severe. And I was having difficulty finding someone that could help me. I've gone to multiple doctors. And, so I actually was told that, that they could do, the physical therapist could do pelvic wall work. And my doctor originally wanted to do, wanted to do a spinal cord implant for the urinary retention.

And so he put it through insurance and they denied it. They said I have to try physical therapy first. So I had a difficult time finding the pelvic floor therapist at first. But then I came across Sarton and they have actually, they've just been absolutely amazing. They right away, you know took my case and just helped me in the beginning. You know with just the step by step, everything I needed to do. And just gave me hope. They were the first place that actually gave me hope because I've gone to multiple different doctors and specialists and people were just saying, getting to the point and were saying I can't help you.

And they were the first people, that you know, really gave me help. So yeah. I, that's been, it's been several years now. I think it's going on about four years ago.

avoid surgery with physical therapy | urinary retention and bladder health

How Did Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Impact Your Healing Journey?

So I was able to avoid the spinal cord implant with the pelvic floor physical therapy. And I was, I was able to avoid having to use catheters, you know, every day and everything too, because that was the point I was at having to use catheters just to void. So it was really extreme.

Ever since I started physical therapy, I have not had one catheter.

breast cancer recovery physical therapy

How & When Did Breast Cancer Come Into the Picture?

It was December of 2013 is when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And it happened that I actually had started getting mammograms at a young age because I found a lump on my, right after my boys were born when I was about 30. And it turned out like I had the polycystic breast disease. And so, they wanted to monitor me so I had to have mammograms starting in my 30's.

And, then it all came back clear every year. You know, they were just keeping an eye an close watch on it because of the cysts. And, so it made it difficult to know what I was feeling, you know. So anyways, I actually went to a new place in 2013 to get a mammogram. And I had the mammogram and they told me that it was clear and I was good and that they would see me next year. And then, about a week later, I started getting phone calls. And someone was calling me and not leaving a message and there was things that were coming up. But I didn't answer it. I thought it was just, you know, telemarketers.

It turns out, they finally left a message after trying several times. And it was the radiologist from the new place that I had gone to for my mammogram. And he said that he had received the films from my previous mammogram where I had gone the year before and that once he compared the two mammograms is when he could actually see that there was something, there were micro calcifications in the breast and he could see that there were changes and there was something going on.

So if he wouldn't have had those to compare, I would have gone at least another year, you know, before it was discovered that something was going on. So they brought me in for a repeat mammogram and then got an ultrasound. And then got me into a biopsy right away. And then let me know on December 13, 2013 that it was DC, it's called DCIS which is ductal carcinoma in situ. So it's in situ. And it's like the earliest stages of the breast cancer to where it's still within the milk ducts and it hadn't spread. So I was very, very lucky. I was told when I had the biopsy, there like it doesn't...I was told a lot. It probably isn't anything, because with the micro calcifications, it's hard to see. But they said 80% of the time it's nothing and so they kept telling me you know that

80% chance that it's not cancer. 80% chance it's not cancer. And then, after doing the biopsy, they realized that it was.

So yeah. So that was when the journey started and I had a bi-lateral mastectomy in 2014 in February. And then I went through the reconstruction process and I've had like three different breast surgeries. And I actually have another one that is going to be coming up soon for, you know, reconstruction and all that.

breast cancer recovery | choose physical therapy after breast reconstruction surgery

What Role Did Physical Therapy Play in Your Breast Cancer Treatment Recovery?

Yeah. No, they actually, they were the biggest support of all. Not just physically, but emotionally as well. They offered amazing emotional support and guidance through the whole journey. And then the treatments that they did they worked actually on the scars of the breast. And tried to get rid of the restrictions because it adheres to the tissue and everything and especially after the mastectomy and removing lymph nodes and things like that. Very restricted in your range of motion. And so they worked on opening everything up. Ggetting rid of any, you know, adhering scar tissue and stuff like that and working actually on the breast and the arm pits and everything actually to try and get that to free everything up and get that range of motion back.

And it actually, you know, would speed up the healing process. And so, that's what, I've done that with every one of my surgeries. And I will continue to do that. And it made a huge difference in just the healing process itself. And for range of motion, because when you have a mastectomy, they remove all the all the muscle as well, almost all the muscle as well as all the breast tissue in your chest. So your whole chest wall is just weak as can be. You don't have any strength and you can't, it's really difficult to use your arms to lift a cup or do anything, you know.

So, the physical therapy made, it was the key component in trying to build the strength and, and get that range of motion back.

breast surgery rehabilitation | physical therapy options

What Advice Would You Give to Someone Seeking Healing for Difficult Diagnoses?

Well, the biggest thing is don't be afraid to reach out to others for guidance and support because it's, it's a very long, hard journey and it's too difficult to do on your own. And the thing with the physical therapy is, they helped me through every stage from right after surgery. I even went in with, this is just on a side note. But I even went in with like drainage tubes and everything. You know, and they helped me with the pelvic floor so because I have you know, urinary retention from the pain and the stress and all that kind of stuff. And so, they helped from like day one after surgery, and helped me through that whole journey and so you know, and I did the guided imagery with Rhona. And that was like a key component as well, is having that incorporated with the physical therapy.

Because that helped the emotional part of the journey. And really helped, it actually helped my healing process too. I actually healed much quicker by using the guided imagery tools through my surgeries and it lowered my blood pressure, it decreased my bleeding, it did amazing things. And so what Rhona is amazing. I don't know if you've met her yet. She's so amazing. And so, she called everybody through Sarton my village of healers. So I had a whole village of healers that were there to help me. I had lymphoedema and so I received the lymphoedema massages and found out how to do it on my own to help with my self care. And so, it's just a matter of being willing to reach out and to you know even ask for the help or just, you know, just don't feel like you need to go through it on your own because there's so many people that are out there, especially through Sarton that are just open and willing to help and get your through, you know, the whole process emotionally and physically.

Sarton Physical Therapy and its affiliates recommend that you contact your physician before participating in any physical therapy, exercise or fitness related programs. Learn More.