As pink ribbons, bracelets, and uniforms call our attention to breast cancer this month, let’s also recognize those who promote recovery from the disease all year long. This fall, TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation marks 15 years of specialized and evidence-based services to more than 4,000 patients.
“Our mission is to help those that have been affected breast cancer – whether it’s the patient, the caregiver, the family member – thrive,” Executive Director Rebecca Cowens-Alvarado said. She took the helm in May 2017, succeeding founder Jill Binkley, who built the organization based on her experience as a two-time cancer survivor and physical therapist.
The only nonprofit of its kind in metro Atlanta, TurningPoint utilizes licensed professionals to support women and men through their breast cancer treatment and recovery. Each patient has an individualized rehabilitation plan that could include physical therapy, lymphedema screening and management, massage therapy, exercise classes, nutritional and emotional counseling, education programs and support groups.
“Before cancer, I was a very active young mom. During the first physical therapy session, I was told that I could try to hold my baby again. It was such a sweet moment in my life that I will never forget. I sped home and ran and grabbed him and held him tightly,” Ashley Franks said. At the time of her diagnosis she was a 32-year-old mother to a four-year-old, two-year-old and six-month-old.
Physical therapy is critical to decrease pain, restore arm strength, and increase range of motion after a mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation or reconstruction. For those with arm, hand or breast swelling known as lymphedema – massage, compression, and exercise are offered. Weekly Pilates classes and individualized exercise plans help patients return to an active lifestyle.
“What makes us different is that we only see breast cancer patients. So our physical therapy is really specialized to address issues that stem from breast cancer surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation,” Cowens-Alvarado said.
What also sets TurningPoint apart is treating the whole patient, by addressing both physical and emotional needs. Individual short-term counseling promotes stress management, enhances coping skills, and reduces anxiety. And groups like the monthly Coffee and Conversation are available for the longer-term.
“Since its one of the few support groups offered in the metro Atlanta area that focuses on the needs of advanced or metastatic breast cancer patients, it’s (Coffee and Conversation) open to more than our patients,” Cowens-Alvarado said.
Though very rare, men may also develop breast cancer. Thankfully, TurningPoint is there for them too. George Bozonier was diagnosed with breast cancer just 10 months after he underwent surgery for prostate cancer.
“Turning Point helped me not only to recover physically from a double mastectomy, but also helped me emotionally deal with the fact that my chest will look dramatically different now. As a man, I can only try to imagine the psychological trauma women experience after the procedure,” Bozonier said.
The organization also welcomes patients regardless of socioeconomic status. It’s need based program takes into account a patient’s access to insurance, annual household income, other life expenses like kids in college, and how advanced is their diagnosis. Nearly a quarter of patients receive financial assistance in reduced fees or complimentary services.
“Because we are a nonprofit, even if you don’t qualify for financial assistance it is a much lower rate for care that one might see at another facility,” Cowens-Alvarado added.
Funding support from Komen Atlanta, It’s the Journey, Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation, The Pink Affair annual fundraiser (March 23, 2019), and individual donors make this possible.
Most patients are referred to TurningPoint point by their surgeons. And they keep coming back. A core group of about a dozen women has attended Pilates every Wednesday for more than four years.
“I learned about TurningPoint after my surgery. I can’t even imagine having a double mastectomy and not having the physical therapy that I received from TurningPoint. They helped me thrive again,” Franks said.
Franks has all of her original mobility back and can even do push ups again.
“We hear that from a lot of our patients. We help them get back to the things they love doing most – whether its playing with their grandchildren, lifting their kids, or playing tennis everyday. That’s our goal to really focus on the patient’s needs and what will make the patient’s life fulfilling the same as it was before their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Cowens-Alvarado said.
She expects they’ll see more than 750 patients in 2018.
For more information, visit myturningpoint.org.