Skip to Content

Published on May 13, 2013

On the road to recovery

University Park woman finds empowerment
in Palos’ Cancer Rehab Program

It’s been a long ride for Carolyn Robinson.

Carolyn Robinson does stretches with the assistance of Alicia Klabunde, manager of Women’s Health & Oncology Rehab at Palos Community Hospital.

Since 1994, she has faced four different kinds of cancer. The most recent diagnosis came last year when she was told she had two types of cancer in her right breast.

Carolyn, 66, chose to have a bilateral mastectomy and her recovery has been anything but easy.

Because of debilitating pain, she left her University Park home only for doctor’s appointments during the three-month period following her surgery in September. “Being in pain all day every day from the time I got up to the time I went to bed and not being able to go out because I was so afraid people would bump into me – I felt so helpless. I couldn’t do anything.”

Carolyn found herself in an emotional hole she couldn’t get out of and sought counseling at The Cancer Support Center in Homewood. While there, she connected with Palos Hospital’s Breast Health Navigator, who ultimately connected her with the Cancer Rehab program, which launched in February.

The program, open to anyone with cancer, focuses on minimizing the effects of cancer and side effects of treatment by empowering patients to learn the skills needed to regain movement and independence. It is one of a select few Cancer Rehab programs in Illinois and includes physical, occupational and speech therapy services in both the outpatient and home health settings.

The American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute estimate there are 13.7 million survivors in the United States, with that number expected to increase to 18 million by 2022.

“At a time when people are living longer after cancer diagnoses, there is a need to ensure they are living as quality of a life as possible both during and after their cancer treatments,” says Alicia Klabunde, manager of Women’s Health & Oncology Rehab at Palos Community Hospital.

The Cancer Rehab program assesses areas such as pain, fatigue, strength, endurance, function and range of motion and focuses holistically on physical, emotional, functional and social abilities.

“We’ve come from a bad situation to a good one,” says Michael, Carolyn’s husband of 34 years. “There’s a day and night difference from where she was at first to where she is now – 100 percent better.”

Multiple surgeries over the years left Carolyn with a limited range of motion in her arms and shoulders. Over time, the pain and lack of movement intensified, leaving her with symptoms of frozen shoulder. The problem was so bad that at times she needed help getting dressed.

Carolyn travels to Palos Diagnostic Center in Tinley Park once a week for therapy sessions with Alicia, who has taught her strengthening exercises and manual techniques to relieve the tightness and hardening from scar tissue. Carolyn continues the exercises at home – using a fitness ball and resistance bands for stretching and strengthening.

“Alicia does a lot of teaching and training and breaks it down for you so you have a lot of understanding. With the tools I’ve learned from her, I know I can do my exercises and help loosen my muscles and that really helps,” Carolyn says.

In fact, Carolyn is so fond of the program she’s told her fellow cancer support group members about it. “They were having the same problems I had and they had never heard of cancer rehab. I am telling everybody I know about it. I’d stand out on the street and pass out cards if I could. This should be a mandatory part of the recovery process.”