When Bonnie Halterman, 80, learned she had triple-negative breast cancer, in 2009, she was stunned and saddened. But instead of wondering, “why me?” Bonnie, of Mansfield, Ohio, instead posed an extraordinary question.
“I asked myself, ‘Why not me?’” she said.
Determined to survive and be an active grandma and family matriarch, Bonnie acted decisively, driving some 70 miles to the OSUCCC – James with her husband to meet her doctors, Stephen Povoski, MD, and Ewa Mrozek, MD.
Bonnie said she knew immediately that she had made the right decision. “I was very well taken care of,” she said. “All the staff made me feel important and valued.”
She had a lumpectomy and the operation also removed several lymph nodes. As a result Bonnie developed lymphedema – a condition in which fluid builds up in the fatty tissues and can cause severe painful swelling – in both arms.
Complications from lymphedema put her back in the hospital, twice, and eventually Dr. Povoski and Dr. Mrozek, referred her to the OSUCCC – James oncology rehabilitation program housed at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center. At the Breast Center, Bonnie, feeling invigorated by the positive atmosphere, met two physical therapists: Amy Knugh and Allison Barber.
Asked which therapist she preferred to work with, Bonnie said, “I couldn’t decide, so I asked if I could work with them both.” And so her rehabilitation began anew.
She knew she had work to do. “My right arm was so swollen my clothes didn’t even fit,” she said. “Allison and Amy finally taught me how to take care of my arm, and how to keep the swelling down. They did it with humor and made me laugh at myself.”
The extra effort paid off. “It was a lot of work but they made it so easy for me,” Bonnie said. “The whole staff was amazing.”
After only three sessions with Amy and Allison, Bonnie lost three inches in her upper arm – excellent progress. She said Allison and Amy were as excited as she was.
“My positive attitude went up a few notches,” she said, “because I saw how that level of care could really make a difference.”
Bonnie described meeting hundreds of people during the course of her treatment at the OSUCCC — James. “There was not a single person who was not 100 percent caring or who didn’t help me,” she said. “And that’s why we drove 70 miles each way umpteen times for treatment.”
Bonnie credits her recovery to her rehabilitation therapists, her family and her faith.
“I had every reason to feel like I was going to be okay because I knew that I had the best doctors and best care.”
Bonnie’s advice to other rehabilitation patients? Having a support network, for one, is really important. But also: “Work hard to take care of yourself,” she said. “Do the exercises and laugh often!”