On Sherry Padgett’s 39th birthday, the day she moved into a new house in Peachtree City, she discovered a lump under her arm. She saw Dr. Nicole Sroka at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, had the lump biopsied and discovered she had cancer in her breast and in many of her lymph nodes. Sherry Padgett was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and she needed four months of chemotherapy first to shrink the cancer enough so that surgery would be shorter and more manageable.
“I don’t carry the BRCA gene, but I later found out that my grandfather’s sisters all had breast cancer,” Padgett said. Women who inherit mutations in BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 are at a higher risk of developing breast and /or ovarian cancer. “As Dr. Sroka explained to me later, genetics is genetics. It doesn’t matter if breast cancer was on my mother or my father’s side.”
After having a double mastectomy and whole breast radiation and under her arm, Padgett, a local dentist, was declared cancer-free. There were still two surgeries for reconstructing and revising the breast and one on her rotator cuff. After her mastectomy, she also started physical therapy for lymphedema, which is pain and swelling that is a potential side effect from breast cancer surgery and radiation.
“Anytime you have lymph nodes removed, whether it is one or 25, you are at risk for developing lymphedema,” Alison Franklin, an occupational therapist at Piedmont Fayette, said. “If you have radiation treatment as well, that risk is even higher.”
Franklin led Padgett’s lymphedema treatment, which pushes the fluid causing the swelling to healthy lymph nodes. Afterwards, Padgett wore short stretch compression bandages to help get the swelling down until a permanent compression garment could be worn.
It was during a physical therapy session Padgett discovered she was suffering from cording, also known as axillary web syndrome. The cords can occur near scar tissue and can be painful or feel tight. Padgett caught it early and has kept it under control with sleeves, massages and other lymphedema therapies.
“One of the ways to treat cording is to do some manual stretching to lengthen the cords,” said Franklin, who added that cords are residual lymph vessels and the tightness can make it painful to lift your arms over your head.
Padgett has lots of medical connections in Atlanta and could have gone anywhere for her surgeries and treatment. She chose Piedmont Fayette because she knew she had a great team all under one roof.
“I am thrilled with the level of care I got here,” Padgett said. “It was like a community between the nurses, anesthesiologists, doctors and surgeons.” Padgett also credited her husband, Rob, for keeping things on an even keel and caring for her and their children during her treatment.
Padgett also found lots of support from Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. In addition to the massages, she also attended the Look Good, Feel Better program offered from American Cancer Society. Not only did she form friendships with women from different generations, she found ways to pay it forward to women going through situations similar to hers.
“It sometimes feels like a big sorority and I just want to help brighten people up,” said Padgett. “I try to pass on things that worked for me, like lip butters, blush sticks, eyebrow pencils, journals, anything that can help them while they are going through this.”
For more information on comprehensive cancer programs and lymphedema treatment at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, visit piedmont.org/cancer.