Sunday Conversation with … Jill Binkley
A decade ago, Jill Binkley, a physical therapist, started TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation, a nonprofit offering rehab services for women being treated for breast cancer. Binkley understood the enormous need for such services because she had undergone treatment for the disease herself. She also concluded that TurningPoint not only would focus on the physical side effects accompanying surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but also would offer counseling, dietary and massage services.
“I learned about and experienced many of the physical and emotional side effects of treatment that I was not aware of even though I was in the health care profession,” said Binkley, executive director of TurningPoint on Roswell Road in Atlanta. “That started me thinking, ‘Did other women have these issues as well?’”
Many did and still do since one in eight women gets breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. October, which is breast cancer awareness month, is a time to celebrate advances in treating the disease. It also is a good time, Binkley says, to advocate for rehab services for the many women who suffer from the very treatments that save their lives. For more infirmation, go to myturningpoint.org.
Q: What are specific physical side effects of breast cancer treatment?
A: We often see pain in the shoulder and chest wall, reduced range of motion and difficulty with function such as reaching overhead, even lifting your baby. Lymphedema, which is swelling of the arm, is a chronic condition that affects about 20 percent of breast cancer patients. I am one of them.
Q: What about emotional side effects?
A: The biggest is the fear of dying and ongoing illness. Body image and sexuality follow, whether you have had reconstructive surgery or not. When you can help women feel better, that is a huge emotional boost.
Q: You take a holistic approach to rehab?
A: We try to take care of the whole woman. We have physical therapists. We also have a counselor, massage therapist and dietician on staff. Our clinicians work together in a comprehensive manner to help women through complex issues.
Q: Has care for women improved since you were diagnosed?
A: We absolutely have made some strides. When I got breast cancer, no one talked about the importance of exercise, which decreases the risk of a recurrence and is something we emphasize a lot at TurningPoint. The fact that doctors refer 30 new women a month to us means that they realize the importance of the care we provide. But, that is still just the tip of the iceberg.
Q: Do other women just suffer silently?
A: They don’t want to complain to the person who saved their lives. Just having a place like TurningPoint lets women know these side effects are typical and that it’s okay to seek help for them.
Q: Why is your practice a nonprofit?
A: We don’t turn any woman away. We do bill health insurance for our physical therapy services. We do get some large grants. If women need financial assistance, they get it.
Q: Is working with breast cancer clients hard for you given your history?
A: Whether you are a survivor or not, working with women with breast cancer has an amazing emotional impact on all of our staff in a very positive way. We get to know our women very well and that can be a very difficult because we lose some of them. The rewards definitely outweigh those very sad times.
Q: Do you still worry about a recurrence 10 years later?
A: The more minutes, the more days, the more months, the more years you live, the less chance you have of a recurrence and the less breast cancer is front and center of what you think every day. You can never say never. That is something you somehow learn to live with.
The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.