A return to the new normal

Healing the emotional and physical effects of breast cancer

A Pilates class is held at TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation, 8010 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs, every Wednesday morning from 8-9 a.m. under the instruction of Lauren Bober, MPT, PT, CES, a certified pilates instructor and expert in breast cancer rehabilitation. 
Lauren Bober, TurningPoint›s clinical director, demonstrates some techniques of weight training and how they can lead to strengthening for the shoulder and core (abdominal and trunk muscles). 

For many survivors of breast cancer, the emotional and physical healing can linger long after the scars have faded away.

“Most people, including physicians and surgeons, are often not aware of the devastating side effects of breast cancer treatment,” said Rebecca Cowens-Alvarado, executive director of TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation.

Established in Johns Creek in the fall of 2003, TurningPoint was started by a breast cancer survivor who found herself in a void — long after the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation had ended.

Jill Binkley was only 42, the mother of three young children, and a physical therapist with considerable medical knowledge. She knew emotional trauma would be present in recovery, but she found herself unprepared for the array of physical side effects, including fatigue, lymphedema and continuing pain which limited her daily activities.

“Jill quickly learned she was not alone [and] was determined to make an impact and raise awareness about rehabilitation and exercise for women with breast cancer,” Cowens-Alvarado said.

TurningPoint was launched soon after, with the goal to improve the quality of life of breast cancer patients and survivors by providing tailored, evidence-based rehabilitation and support. Services include physical therapy, counseling, exercise, nutrition, massage therapy and support groups.

Although Binkley recently stepped down as the executive director of TurningPoint, she remains involved as a consultant to the organization she founded, ensuring the organization’s goals continue.

“TurningPoint helps breast cancer patients and survivors manage the physical and emotional side effects of breast cancer and its treatment,” explained Cowens-Alvarado, who became executive director in May. “The staff helps women regain their range of motion, prevent and manage lymphedema and improve their overall well-being.”

Since its beginning 16 years ago, the non-profit organization has served more than 3,500 patients and has grown beyond its initial focus on rehabilitation services. Services now include those directed to survivors, as well as the community, including education and awareness activities, provider education and research partnerships.

Cowens-Alvarado points to an exciting new collaboration with Georgia Tech on a research project to better treat lymphedema, a condition that causes swelling in the limbs and is tied to the removal of lymph nodes.

TurningPoint also works closely with Susan G. Komen and It’s the Journey in their goals to prevent, diagnose and treat breast cancer.

About 30 patients are seen each day, and the TurningPoint clinic has quadrupled in size over the years to include additional facilities and services. In 2013, the organization moved from Johns Creek to Sandy Springs to better serve its expanding client base.

While breast cancer is the common link among all the clients, services are tailored for where the client is in the recovery process.

“Many of our patients have just had breast cancer surgery and/or reconstruction surgery, while others are further along in their journey, “ Cowens-Alvarado said. “Once those patients have completed their initial rehabilitation plan, many return to participate in our [other] programs.”

Looking to the future, Cowens-Alvarado says exciting things are on the horizon as management looks to grow and expand its reach. TurningPoint is the only organization of its kind in the Southeast, and Cowens-Alvarado said the goal is to continue to lead by example.

She notes TurningPoint works hard to end the misconception that women must live with the limitations that breast cancer leaves behind.

“This is just not the case,” she said. “TurningPoint helps women regain their physical and emotional health so they can return to the things they love most.”

For more information on TurningPoint contact ■


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