“Be a product of the product.” That’s the mantra of EduCare founder and registered nurse Judy Kneece. And it’s solid advice for those who believe they should practice what they preach. But it takes on a different meaning when you discover what business EduCare is in.
“We train breast health navigators,” says Judy. “These are nurses who meet with patients as soon as they hear the understandably scary words ‘You have breast cancer.’” EduCare’s navigators coach the patient for the entire continuum of breast cancer care, from pre-surgery through surgery, chemotherapy and beyond.
EduCare has trained over 2,300 navigators who work in hospitals and breast centers all over the world since it opened its doors in 1994.
Three keys to recovery
Judy says it is crucial for a navigator’s patients to understand that there are some things in recovery that no one can do except themselves. After that steely mindset has been established, a breast cancer patient must understand three principles for recovery:
1. Positive thought
“Every thought we have causes a cascade of chemicals that washes through our body. They can have a positive impact when we think of joyful, peaceful, helpful thoughts. But when we think of negative things like anger, fear and worry, these thoughts actually have a paralyzing effect on the immune system. It impairs recovery. The patient has to realize that they alone can determine what and how they think.”
“Patients are responsible for everything they put into their mouths. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy “kill” cancer cells but “damage” healthy cells that have to be repaired. Only nutrients can do this and only the patient can really dictate what she eats. Every spoonful has to count.”
“Exercise is a necessary component of healing. The body’s cellular waste sits in the lymphatic system until we move it out. Unlike the vascular system, the lymphatic system does not have a pump. Without exercise to help move fluid through the lymphatics, we actually become a toxic waste dump – particularly for patients in chemotherapy. It is the muscular contractions around the lymphatic that cleans our body and greatly facilitates recovery. Exercise also reduces fatigue, helps alleviate pain and elevates the mood of patients.”
Being a product of the product
For Judy, it’s not just the patients who have to comply with these principles; it’s the navigator’s responsibility as well. “You can’t teach what you don’t do yourself. It comes off as insincere,” she says. “During my training sessions I create a positive environment where the navigators experience exactly what we want them to teach their patients.”
At the four days of intensive training, the navigators eat nutritious meals, learn to think with a positive thought foundation, and are introduced to gentle movement. All of this helps them switch from the clinical focus ingrained in most nurses to actually building a healthy, healing environment in their own bodies.
Pilates is a big part of that.
“I have done Pilates for ten years,” Judy says. “I know what it has done for my body and I have seen magnificent results in other people as well. It is my first recommendation to patients as a method of exercise. Pilates empowers the breast cancer population because it is extremely effective yet gentle on the body. A breast cancer survivor has to move in order to heal, but many types of post-surgery exercise can hurt them. Pilates is the exception.”
Throughout the EduCare training session, Judy employs a trainer (also a Pilates instructor) to introduce Pilates and yoga to the navigators. They learn mat exercises and are encouraged to find a mind-body exercise program near their home or work. Judy also uses a DVD with specific exercises for breast cancer patients to restore range of motion to the surgical arm. “The video is key, because the navigators can buy it and loan it to patients for home use,” she says. “Or – if approved by the patient’s doctor and physical therapist – they can actually design a home exercise program for their patients.”
Pilates has become such a big part of EduCare’s program that Judy recently bought two Reformers for the EduCare office. “We have them in our “energy break” room and we are thrilled to be able to use them,” she says. “It is so good for both the body and the mind and really refreshes us so that we are at the peak of our game.
“And we really are playing a life-changing game.”