ARLINGTON -- Leahsa Holcomb's breast cancer nightmare began in 2006, when she awoke one morning to find drops of dried blood on her pajama top. After having a milk duct removed, the Arlington woman said her doctor told her she was cancer free.But she wasn't.The next year, new tests revealed Holcomb had invasive breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, but while in the Dallas hospital Holcomb said she caught a virus that caused her to lose sight in one eye, hearing in one ear, and to suffer significant nerve damage that left her in a wheelchair.Although she recovered some of her sight and hearing, Holcomb struggled for months with the pain, weakness and dizziness caused by the surgery, chemotherapy, medication and constant treatments."By this time I was suicidal and depressed. I'm looking at spending the rest of my life in bed because I can't walk," Holcomb recalled.But nearly five years after her diagnosis, Holcomb, 58, can not only walk again but she regularly practices yoga and works to keep herself strong with cardio aerobics.She credits her happier, more active lifestyle largely to the support she has received from Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital's Nutrition, Exercise and Attitudes for Tomorrow program, or N.E.A.T. The free program, started at the hospital in 2008, is designed to help women like Holcomb cope with the effects of breast cancer and find emotional support among other survivors."We need each other," Holcomb said. "Every morning, when you say 'I have a pain. Is the cancer back?,' they understand that fear."Holcomb relied on a walker when she first joined the N.E.A.T. program but now has greater mobility after years of exercise, stretching and encouragement from fitness instructors like Beth Harrison.Harrison said watching the women bond and become emotionally and physically stronger after their mastectomies make her job so rewarding."That's a radical type of surgery. They feel they can't do much. We are here to tell them, "'Yes, you can,'" Harrison said.Patients who can barely raise their arms after surgery can regain their flexibility through yoga and other exercise classes offered by N.E.A.T., Harrison said."Studies have shown if you exercise, the reoccurrence of cancer is lessened," said Harrison, who added that emotional support is equally as important. "When you feel good emotionally, it helps you physically."It isn't unusual for women in the program to attend doctors' visits together or to offer comfort and companionship at one another's bedside when cancer treatments no longer work.Holcomb wears a bracelet with a bead in memory of each friend in the program she has lost over the years to cancer.The program, sponsored by the Texas Health Harris Methodist Foundation, is also offered at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford. It is open to any woman who has or has had breast cancer.Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578Twitter: @susanschrock
For more information
For more information on how to enroll in the Arlington N.E.A.T. program, call 817-960-6705. To enroll in the H-E-B program, call 817-267-9191.