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Water Exercise Provides Physical and Emotional Rehab

Water Exercise Provides Physical and Emotional Rehab

NEW YORK—Two mornings a week, women who have had mastectomies or lumpectomies dip into the blue and white tiled pool at The Sol Goldman Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association in Manhattan to laugh and splash, to reduce postoperative complications, and to feel alive and accepted. Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center offer the Renewal Pool Program free to any woman who has had breast cancer surgery.

On a recent morning, after some stretching exercises, the women, some bald, lowered themselves into the pool. Their teacher, Kateri Dupuy, put on a jazz piano tape by Erroll Garner, and they started their workout. “Let those shoulders slip down. Feel the ground with those wonderful legs. Cross your arms,” Ms. Dupuy said, as she led the women through their upper arm exercises, bicycle exercises, and so on.

Soon, Ms. Dupuy was holding out a hoop, and several of the women scored with beach balls while the others clapped. “Women feel each other’s pain and happiness,” said Daphne, a member of the class. “The water is the best. We get to find ourselves in this pool.”

Bert Petersen, Jr., MD, an attending physician at the Louis Venet Comprehensive Breast Service, Beth Israel Medical Center, noted the benefits of the program. “The water exercises are non-weight-bearing and give women a nice range of motion in the arms,” he said, “and if they have lymphedema problems, it helps remove the fluid and keep the swelling down. They have time to bond with each other as well. They absolutely love it.”

Pamela Yaker, CSW, a Beth Israel social worker who helped develop the program, also stressed the program’s medical and psychosocial benefits. “The pool class has become a strong support system and a safe environment,” she said.

Ms. Yaker said that the program gets permission from the woman’s physician if surgery has been within the past month and that the women work at their own pace. “The class also helps with body image,” she said. “People aren’t staring at them if they have no hair, and they can walk around in a bathing suit and feel secure.”

The pool program provides support in many ways, said their teacher, Ms. Dupuy, a water safety instructor who has taught water exercise for 15 years. “When the women come in, all kinds of things have happened to them. They’ve had surgery, chemo, radiation, lymphedema. They feel a lack of control over their lives and their bodies. The women who have had mastectomies also feel out of balance—heavier on one side.”

Basically, she said, the women have a deep psychological need to feel support. “We use everything we can to find that support,” she said. Ms. Dupuy also teaches relaxation techniques, working with the ground and gravity. “Then they can feel that their life is their own again. They have a sense of flow through the whole body they didn’t feel before,” she said.

Through the upper arm exercises, the women can extend or at least maintain their range of motion. “With lymphedema, there is protectiveness. You don’t want to be bumped,” Ms. Dupuy said. “Sometimes people get a frozen shoulder because they are unable to lift things with that arm, and the less mobility and movement, the greater the lymphedema.”

Water makes the body 60% lighter, and when the shoulders are completely under water, it lifts the arm up and it feels lighter. “When you experience that, you can take a chance to move your arm, if you haven’t been moving it. In water, there is a greater chance to extend range of motion,” Ms. Dupuy said.

The women were gliding through the pool now, dog paddling, swimming, walking, and talking. They had done their stretches and exercises, played their games, and greeted their buddies. “Oh, it’s so nice,” one woman said.

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