Susannah Haarmann, PT, WCS, CLT became inspired to write the continuing education course “Rehabilitation and Breast Oncology” in 2011 as a women’s health resident at Duke University, where she became a certified lymphedema therapist. However, believing in a holistic approach to wellbeing, she realized that there were other common side effects of medical treatment that were not being addressed in patient care. She turned to the literature and found the research to be very limited compared to most physical therapy referrals. Her passion for working with this population was compounded by loved ones who experienced a cancer diagnosis, and only grew as she attempted to fill in the gaps in patient care.
Susannah graduated from North Georgia College and State University with a Physical Therapy degree in 2007. Prior to attending the Women’s Health Residency program at Duke University, she dedicated herself to becoming a proficient generalist working in a variety of settings with a particular interest in manual therapy. Susannah obtained her Women’s Clinical Specialist Certification in 2013. She is a Herman and Wallace faculty member teaching pelvic health in addition to her continuing education course in breast oncology. Currently, she works in an outpatient practice in Asheville, North Carolina.
The fuel for Susannah’s mission to promote rehabilitation for breast cancer survivors is service, collaboration and education.
Most big endeavors start with a personal story. Susannah’s experience supporting her mother and best friend on their journey with cancer was the initial spark of passion for working with the oncology population. Susannah’s patients are her true teachers. Teaching is just another mode of serving and she feels great reward unveiling the possibility that we as rehab providers have in helping patients retain their level of function as much as possible prior to diagnosis. Susannah believes assisting patients in healing on a physical level has a cascade effect to the mental, spiritual and inter-personal realms as well.
Susannah began her mission with the basic belief in preventative care and early intervention and she was relieved to quickly find research performed by the American Cancer Society supporting this philosophy with a proposed plan of care called the Prospective Surveillance Model. Filling in the gaps of patient care specific to breast oncology was like fitting pieces of a puzzle together and the task was very illuminating, but it would be impossible for one person if not for the work of many.
Susannah believes that we are just scratching the surface for education via collaboration. It is undeniable that a team approach is necessary for optimal oncologic care and Susannah serves as an advocate for rehab services. Furthermore, following the biopsychosocial model of health opens the door even further for the wisdom of dieticians, acupuncturists, yoga practitioners and naturopaths to name a few. It is Susannah’s hope that the blog posts will provide a global forum for experts in various fields to humbly share their knowledge for the betterment of this patient care population.
Susannah believes that education is an incredible form of empowerment; increased knowledge leads to understanding and a greater realization of potential among patients and practitioners. It is her observation that cancer treatment can be a very passive experience, however, her patients often remark that therapy helps them take an active role in healing. Therapists have an incredible ability to provide insight on the potential side effects of treatment for the patient in a non-alarming manner. Skilled oncology practitioners are able to screen for and treat the side effects of breast cancer from diagnosis and serve as a touch stone for our patients well into remission.