New Omaha program helps women live a full life after breast cancer
STORY & PHOTOS BY
The Catholic Voice
After being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer three years ago, Kathy Krzycki's life changed forever. She endured a double mastectomy and intense chemotherapy and radiation and was left feeling unsure of her future.
'I had to choose where my energy was going," she said, noting she dealt with memory loss, low self-confidence and a loss of spirituality. 'All of my innocence was taken away."
Not only did Krzycki, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Omaha, have to deal with the losses as a result of breast cancer, but she also was faced with the loss of her job as a nurse at Omaha's Mercy Care Center and the death of her husband, Darryl, who died suddenly a week after her cancer treatments ended.
'There were days that I would roll out of bed and roll back in," she said. 'I wanted to be a survivor, but my spirit was kind of taken away. It was depleted. It was tired and worn out from the impact of everything."
Krzycki, her cancer now in remission, said she found strength and healing from counseling, friends, family and a local program called, 'A Time to Heal," designed to help women reclaim their lives after breast cancer treatment.
'What "˜A Time to Heal' did for me was give me tools to work at being a better survivor," Krzycki told The Catholic Voice. 'It gave me the tools to stop and think about whether or not I was taking care of myself. It gave me tools to evaluate my life and to see where I wanted to go. It helped me begin to restore my spirit to a spirit of confidence."
FIRST OF ITS KIND
'A Time to Heal" was created by Dr. Stephanie Koraleski and Kay Ryan as the first 'whole person" rehabilitation program for patients who have completed treatment for a first occurrence of breast cancer. The 12-week holistic program is designed to help women regain physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological and spiritual strength after undergoing breast cancer treatment.
The Methodist Cancer Center and Nebraska Methodist College in Omaha partnered with the Servants of Mary to provide 'A Time to Heal." The Servants of Mary, also known as the Servite Sisters, are providing their Servite Center of Compassion facilities in Omaha for the rehabilitation program.
The Servants of Mary have a history of spiritual ministry to cancer patients through their program, such as Healing Touch Therapy and the St. Peregrine Prayer Program.
'We just want to work with, collaborate with, be with and offer presence to persons who have cancer and just to support them, pray with them, cry with them, and listen to them," said Sister Mary Hogan, OSM, a program facilitator.
GREAT NEED FOR REHABILITATION
Koraleski, the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, and Ryan, a breast cancer survivor herself, are both very familiar with the side effects and after effects of breast cancer treatment.
When a woman has breast cancer there are many side effects that need rehabilitation. Women oftentimes encounter things like fatigue, the lack of ability to concentrate, pain and weakness, sleep stress and Lymphedema, an accumulation of lymphatic fluid that causes swelling, most often in the arms and legs, and occasionally in other parts of the body.
In creating 'A Time to Heal," they felt breast cancer patients could benefit from the same concept of rehabilitative care that is available to cardiac patients.
'We looked at the services provided to our patients and realized that breast cancer patients don't get the same kind of post-treatment care that heart patients get," Koraleski said. 'We scoured the available psychosocial literature and looked at the experiences of patients to develop a program of information and activities we believe "“ and research confirms "“ may be helpful to them."
In conjunction with the program, Koraleski, a psychologist at Methodist Cancer Center, and Ryan, a former cardiac nurse, are conducting an accompanying study of the program.
Research for 'A Time to Heal" will compare whether women do better in the rehabilitation group or on their own. Participants will be studied before, during and after the program, and follow-up surveys will be conducted six months and a year after completion of the program.
'Our ultimate hope would be that if it turns out to be as good as we think it's going to be, that it would become kind of the norm for some women to have rehabilitation after breast cancer surgery and hopefully maybe even get it paid for by their insurance companies," Koraleski said.
'A Time to Heal" is free to qualifying participants and is being made possible by a grant from the Nebraska Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
BEGINNING TO HEAL
Participants in 'A Time to Heal" meet three hours every week for 12 weeks. Each session includes light snacks, gentle arm and shoulder exercises and a presentation on topics pertaining to breast cancer recovery, such as relaxation, nutrition, spirituality, sexuality, femininity and relationships. The women also participate in group discussion, journaling and affirmation.
'We believe a lot of healing has to do with telling your story and being able to be validated for what happened to you and the feelings you had and also the hopes and dreams that you hope to accomplish in the future," Koraleski said.
For Krzycki, being able to share with others and interact with others through 'A Time to Heal" allowed her to appreciate herself again.
'They had to instill a sense of confidence and teach me to look inside myself and realize that I had to honor my own being, to honor my own wisdom and to have dreams," she said. 'I learned that living in a miracle is such a gift. It brought me from just surviving to thriving."
Krzycki said rehabilitation also helped her reclaim her spirituality and enriched her sense of humor.
'My present life is entirely different than what it used to be," she said. 'I am proof that you can come out of darkness. Now, my soul is awakened and I want to live."