Tara's story

Patient Story

Active After Breast Cancer

Posted By Megan Washburn

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Tara Hoffman, 44, was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2016 during a regular mammogram. At the time, she was training for a 10-mile race and concerned about ramifications of treatment on her active lifestyle.

Tara underwent two surgeries, including a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. In the months following, she learned that she was at risk for lymphedema, swelling caused by the removal of lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment. 

With the goal of limiting this risk, she came to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) and sought guidance from Sam Shahpar, MD, of RIC’s Cancer Rehabilitation Program.

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“Breast cancer and the various treatments used to control and cure the disease may result in a decline or loss of function and impede a survivor’s ability to perform job-related or recreational activities,” said Dr. Shahpar. “RIC’s Cancer Rehabilitation Program is designed to help patients through the recovery process, and lead them back to fulfilling, active lifestyles.”

Tara underwent a comprehensive evaluation at RIC. In his initial assessment, Dr. Shahpar noted that her right arm had atrophied and prescribed a therapy regimen to rebuild her strength. He also counseled her on the best ways to stay active.  

“New research has proven that exercise is not only safe, but that appropriate exercises can even prevent lymphedema from occurring,” said Dr. Shahpar. “These exercises can often start soon after surgery and may include arm strengthening and range of motion activities as well as aerobic exercise such as walking.”

I found that I needed to be an active participant in my recovery, It’s not just about waiting for medicine to do its job. Exercise has been central to my progress.

Tara Hoffman

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tara rowing

You can’t let cancer stop you from doing what you love

Tara Hoffman, Cancer Survivor

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In the course of her evaluation, Tara noted that her arm was feeling heavy, an indication of excess fluid. To address this, her physical therapist taught her the practice of manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), which uses light massage to move excess fluid out of the tissues and back into the lymphatic system. Tara was also fitted for a compression garment, which would help increase circulation during exercise and travel.

“I found that I needed to be an active participant in my recovery,” said Tara. “It’s not just about waiting for medicine to do its job. Exercise has been central to my progress."

Today, Tara has wrapped up treatment and is officially cancer-free, and has reclaimed her active lifestyle. She has plans to run the Soldier Field 10 Mile again this year (this time with more hair!). Thanks to Dr. Shahpar’s suggestion, she has also become active in Recovery on Water, a rowing team for breast cancer patients and survivors. Spring is the season for sprint races, and her team is already working on their conditioning for the competitions.

“You can’t let cancer stop you from doing what you love,” she said. “I’m living proof of that."

Learn more about Tara’s recovery, and her journey with RIC, by watching this Living Healthy Chicago segment.

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