Survivors Thrive with Shore’s Oncology Rehabilitation and Lymphedema Management Program

Jennifer Brooks, PT, DPT, CLT-LANA, guides patient Grace Wagner, of Northfield, through targeted exercises to facilitate the flow of lymph fluid. Brooks recently joined Shore Cancer Center as a full-time therapist dedicated to oncology rehabilitation and lymphedema management.

June 28, 2023

For cancer survivors, the challenges of treatment often extend beyond its completion. Many individuals face long-term complications from chemotherapy, radiation, or cancer-related surgery. Fortunately, Shore Cancer Center now offers an oncology rehabilitation and lymphedema management program that brings relief and improves the quality of life for survivors in the region, regardless of where they received their initial treatment.

Jennifer Brooks, PT, DPT, CLT-LANA, is a Physical Therapist with extensive experience helping cancer survivors. She recently joined Shore Cancer Center as a full-time therapist dedicated to oncology rehabilitation and lymphedema management. With over 20 years of expertise in this field, Brooks understands the unique struggles faced by survivors, particularly in managing lymphedema. She previously provided care to oncology and lymphedema patients at the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation's Pomona facility until March 2023. Prior to Bacharach, Brooks worked at Shore Medical Center, offering care to cancer survivors in the hospital’s outpatient rehabilitation department. 

In this article, you’ll read about three patients who speak highly of Brooks and the care she provides, but she humbly attributes her success to her patients' determination. 

“My patients are the ones who deserve all of the accolades. They are the survivors. I joke that I am more like a sherpa for people climbing Mount Everest. Occasionally I hold their baggage, point out storms on the horizon, give a few tips and share which paths have worked best lately for other climbers. They do their own climbing, though, 100 percent.”

A Master Gardener Masters Lymphedema 
Grace Wagner, 83, is a Master Gardener from Northfield who loves tending to her stunning gardens on her one-acre property. She has been under the care of Jennifer Brooks since she developed painful lymphedema in her legs seven years ago, following surgery and treatment for endometrial/uterine cancer. Wagner's lymph nodes were removed from her abdomen during surgery to ensure complete cancer removal.

Wagner recalls her realization about the severity of lymphedema during a support group meeting for women with gynecological cancer at Gilda's Club. It was there that she learned about Brooks, and when her own leg lymphedema began, she knew who to turn to. Wagner expresses her confidence in Brooks, stating, "As soon as I met Jennifer, I thought, 'I'm in the right place.' She's a skilled therapist who knows her field. I trust her completely."

Each session begins with a discussion about any recent issues Wagner may be having. Brooks then guides Wagner through targeted exercises and provides manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), similar to a light massage, to facilitate the flow of lymph fluid. They also discuss adjustments Wagner can make to her gardening routine to alleviate discomfort. At home, Wagner performs prescribed exercises, wears compression garments, and uses a fluid-moving compression pump for one hour each morning and night.

Wagner's lymphedema is sometimes aggravated by other health issues she faces. For instance, a severe stomach bug that led to a hospitalization last year resulted in a lymphedema flare-up. This year, she underwent back surgery for painful sciatica, which resulted in lymphedema in her legs and lower back that she couldn't manage independently. Despite being advised by others to give up gardening due to frequent injuries, Wagner remains grateful that she can continue pursuing her passion, knowing that Brooks is there to help her through the challenges of lymphedema.

Breast Cancer Survivor Finds Relief – and Confidence
Jennifer Mettille is a breast cancer survivor who underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction slightly over a year ago. She commends Brooks for not only assisting with lymphedema management but also boosting her confidence post-reconstruction.

"Jennifer encouraged me to embrace self-confidence after my mastectomy. She validated my feelings and provided unwavering support," says Mettille. "She also connected me with a business that specializes in bras for post-mastectomy and reconstruction. She helped me realize that my identity isn't defined by these surgeries and I can continue feeling confident as a woman."

As a physical therapy assistant at a subacute rehab facility, Mettille also received guidance from Brooks on resuming work. Mettille explains, "I experienced swelling, scarring, and reduced range of motion on the side where I had my surgeries. Since I frequently lift patients, Jennifer helped me strengthen my arm and taught me new techniques for patient lifting."

Mettille’s last visit with Brooks was on June 28. While she appreciates being at this stage in her recovery journey, she admits that she will miss these visits. She says, "I've been seeing Jennifer twice a week, on and off, for about a year. We would start each day with our brief check-ins, which I will miss. I'm grateful for Jennifer's support throughout."

Better Range of Motion for a Head and Neck Cancer Survivor
John Sharpe of Egg Harbor City is a retired baking and pastry chef teacher as well as a head and neck cancer survivor. He developed lymphedema and scar tissue in the left side of his neck after surgery and radiation to remove and treat his cancer. Thankfully, he’s doing well despite going through one of the hardest courses of radiation, but the pressure and swelling of lymphedema during a flareup makes it hard to move his head and neck. When that happens, he calls Brooks to start another round of lymphedema management. 

“When my wife and I first met Jennifer at my oncologist’s suggestion, she explained to us what was happening so well, in words we could understand. She said cancer survivorship can be the gift that keeps on giving and it could cause ongoing issues, but she’d be here for me if that happened. And she has been.”

One of the techniques that Brooks uses is manual therapy with MLD to get the fluid moving and the scar tissue to loosen. 

“She’s got those thumbs that just know what they’re doing. She has me do breathing exercises to relax beforehand because it can be uncomfortable, but then I feel the easing of the pressure and pain from lymphedema and the scar tissue. I see results within one or two treatments,” Sharpe said. 

Sharpe has complete trust in Brooks. “The fun thing about Jennifer is she’s extremely intelligent and knows her stuff. She’s professional, and she’s totally focused on you during your treatment. But she also has a wicked sense of humor. If you are a cancer survivor with lymphedema or other problems related to your treatment, talk to your oncologist about seeing her. I’m so thankful she stayed local after Bacharach closed. I’m a happy guy, knowing she’s still a resource for me.”

To learn more or to schedule an appointment for oncology rehabilitation and lymphedema management with Jennifer Brooks, PT, DPT, CLT-LANA, please call 609-653-3512.