WINGATE — When Brittany Hills helps cancer patients and survivors get up and moving, it’s more than simply a way to work in a real-life physical-therapy setting while she’s still a student. It’s also to honor her father.
Hills’ father died from pancreatic cancer last year, and during his last few months, Hills saw how much physical therapy improved his quality of life. A former marathon runner, he was originally given six weeks to live — but with a little help from PT, he lived another year.
“He used to wake up and do one of his rehabilitation exercises, and he’d always feel better the rest of the day,” Hills, a first-year student in Wingate’s doctor of physical therapy program, said. “The little bit he did he loved. It made him feel like he was an actual human being.”
Hills and fellow first-year DPT student Nicole O’Neill are trying to help others receive the same benefits at Carolinas HealthCare System hospitals in Union and Anson counties. Under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Morris, associate professor in the Wingate Department of Physical Therapy, the two kicked off their free “movement flow” classes on May 16 at CHS Union with three participants. They hope to eventually have quadruple that number — or more.
Classes are held once a month, from 5:30-6:30 p.m., alternating between the hospitals in Monroe and Wadesboro. One was held Tuesday at CHS Anson and another will be held July 18 at CHS Union, though the organizers would like to eventually hold one a month at each hospital.
The classes are designed to help those who are either undergoing or have undergone cancer treatment improve their quality of life, extend their lifespan or keep cancer from recurring. As cancer-survivorship rates increase, rehabilitation is becoming more routine. A rehab regime has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence in many people, and at the least it can help them live longer and better.
“Rehab helps with any of the side effects of cancer treatments or aftereffects,” Chandra Stegall, lead occupational therapist for rehabilitation services at CHS Union, said. “We most commonly treat swelling, pain; limitations in movement patterns, neuropathy, or tingling in the hands and feet, balance issues, overall fatigue, and difficulties with activities of daily living.”
“Of all the treatment patients have, this is their favorite, because they start to feel better,” Stegall said
Many patients can’t afford extended rehab or don’t know much about it. The free classes are designed to get them up and moving and to give them exercises they can then do at home.
Hills and O’Neill structured the class so that it would provide general benefits, but exercises can be tailored to individuals.
For many participants, weight loss will be the primary goal. Others will be trying to get more range of motion out of, say, their shoulder, or they’ll be looking to improve their balance.
For all of them, it’s a chance to socialize with others who have gone through a similarly difficult situation.
“You don’t want to feel alone,” Hills said. “You want to feel like you have people to support you.”
To find out more about the classes, contact the Wingate University Department of Physical Therapy at 704-233-8358 or email@example.com, or call CHS Union Rehab at 980-993-3277.