Healthy You - Every Day

Stepping into Recovery

Physical therapy helped Jan Schanck after she developed neuropathy from chemotherapy treatments

Jan Schanck, a 79-year-old Bethlehem resident, believes in giving back to the community. The retired human resources specialist spends her free time putting together meals for families in need and making quilts for babies in the Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to take home. However, during the winter of 2021, she found herself so sick she could barely get out of bed for weeks.

Her primary care physician Michael Ehrig, MD, with LVPG Internal Medicine–Muhlenberg, sent her for some tests. The test results suggested she had cancer and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan was scheduled to see exactly where the cancer was located. The results were stark.

“My entire scan lit up like a Christmas tree. There was cancer everywhere,” says Schanck.

Schanck was diagnosed with stage 4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This wasn’t Schanck’s first experience with cancer. Fifteen years ago, Schanck successfully beat breast cancer. While hearing she had cancer was a devastating blow, she was ready to face the challenge head-on.

“I’m not the type of person to sit around and ask, ‘Why me?’ I just want to do whatever I can to fight and carry on with my life,” she says.

New treatments present additional challenges

Schanck turned to the same oncologist who helped her beat breast cancer, Savitri Skandan, MD, with LVPG Hematology Oncology.

“Her lymphoma was completely unrelated to the breast cancer she had in 2006. The good news is that even at stage 4, lymphoma is curable. Since she was experiencing more symptoms like shortness of breath, it was important to treat it quickly,” says Skandan.

Within weeks of her diagnosis, Schanck began treatment. Her treatment included a variety of medications, including chemotherapy. She admitted that her treatments this time were more taxing than those she experienced when she was treated for breast cancer. In addition to nausea and fatigue, Schanck also began to experience weakness in her hands and feet, making everyday activities difficult.

“It’s not uncommon for some of the chemotherapy drugs to cause neuropathy (nerve damage). In fact, Jan and I spoke about it before she began treatment. Initially Jan walked into my office, but by the fifth or sixth round of treatment she was walking with a cane. I thought she would benefit greatly from physical therapy,” Skandan says.

One foot in front of the other

While the neuropathy was a setback, Schanck continued with her treatments and began physical therapy twice a week with physical therapist Amanda Molnar with LVHN Rehabilitation Services–West Broad. The goal of physical therapy was for Schanck to gain strength and address her impairments.

“Jan worked on a number of exercises designed to increase flexibility, strength and basic mobility. We also used electrical simulation to re-educate and re-train Jan’s muscles to help improve her foot drop,” Molnar says.

Gradually, Schanck began to see an improvement. She was able to walk and take part in her daily and social activities. Much to her delight, she was also able to knit and make baby quilts again.

“I think a lot of people with cancer are already dealing with so many doctor appointments and not feeling well from their treatments, that physical therapy can be difficult. But it can truly make a difference in your long-term recovery.” - Amanda Molnar, LVHN Rehabilitation Services

Molnar says that physical therapy is often underutilized by those who experience mobility issues related to their treatment.

“I think a lot of people with cancer are already dealing with so many doctor appointments and not feeling well from their treatments, that physical therapy can be difficult. But it can truly make a difference in your long-term recovery,” Molnar says.

Physical Therapy

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Looking forward

Schanck recently completed her treatments and is doing well. In fact, her last PET scan was clear. She still sees her physical therapists regularly and wears a brace on her leg, which helps with balance.

She is thankful to her care team and wants to give back. She even attended a seminar with Molnar to help students studying to be physical therapists learn more about mobility issues related to chemotherapy.

“I am confident that I will recover. In fact, my 80th birthday is in January and I’m already looking at restaurants that my son can take me to for a celebration dinner,” says Schanck.

Cancer Rehabilitation Services

You receive care from therapists who have years of experience working with cancer patients. Our services help you get back to your daily life activities.

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