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Published on February 11, 2019

Karen Gerhardson

Acupuncture Tackles the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

There’s always a year or two that stick out to us, offering more good or bad memories than expected. For Karen Gerhardson, she spent 2018 fighting breast cancer, and won.

“I’m doing great,” said Gerhardson. “I had my last chemotherapy session in mid-December.”

Late in 2017, while taking a shower, her hand brushed against an unusual lump in her breast. Knowing she was due for her annual mammogram, she scheduled her appointment right away.

This wasn’t the first time Gerhardson had concerns regarding her breasts. When breast cancer was confirmed, she was confident in her decision to have a double mastectomy.

The Journey Begins

Her treatment journey began at Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls with multiple rounds of chemotherapy before surgery. After the first round in Sioux Falls, she returned home to Marshall, Minn. where she needed follow-up care to address some of the chemotherapy side effects.

An attending physician explained that all of the care she required could be handled just one mile away from her home. This included her double mastectomy, which took place in May 2018.

The convenience of Avera Cancer Institute in Marshall was a game changer. “It was fabulous, just unbelievable,” said Gerhardson, “and it’s right here in town — the great staff, organization and cancer care.”

However, chemotherapy can take its toll. Like many others before her, Gerhardson experienced body aches, nausea, dehydration and an upset stomach. She often visited the cancer center for fluids and supplements via IV.

Addressing Side Effects

Soreness prompted her to visit chiropractic physician, Josh Bruning, DC. At her appointment, Bruning recommended acupuncture as a way to address the relentless nausea. Gerhardson would become the first acupuncture patient at Avera Marshall.

“Acupuncture is a non-drug therapy to help patients recover faster after chemotherapy,” said Bruning. “Patients come over right after their chemo session to proactively reduce symptoms.”

It was the first time Gerhardson had ever tried acupuncture. “It was just amazing,” she said. “I literally had needles everywhere, from my feet to my forehead, and it massively helped with the chemo side effects.”

Bruning said he has seen acupuncture reduce post-chemotherapy nausea, diarrhea and neuropathy symptoms by an average of 40 percent.

The cancer journey is nearing an end for Gerhardson. Due to the mastectomy and lymph node removal, she attends physical therapy to regain feeling and muscle function in her upper body.

Gerhardson also gives thanks for the amazing outpour of support shown by the community, her coworkers, friends and families. Many helped pay for medications, provided hot meals and even cleaned her home.

Her outlook on life has shifted 100 percent. “As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I finally feel like I’ve found the cure,” reflected Gerhardson. “I’ve been given a new lease on life; I now enjoy the life I am given.”

What’s Going to Happen to My Breasts?

Traci Kruse, MD, Avera Medical Group general surgeon in Marshall, explains the surgical options often recommended to women facing breast cancer.

  • Lumpectomy
    During this surgery, only the tumor and surrounding tissue is extracted from the affected breast.
  • Mastectomy
    One or both breasts are completely removed from the woman’s body because cancer has spread or the woman is at higher risk for ongoing breast cancer concerns.
  • Axillary Dissection
    Axillary dissection takes out all lymph nodes in case breast cancer has spread. This only occurs if the initial tested lymph nodes, the sentinel lymph nodes, prove to have cancer.

“A comprehensive breast cancer program is available here in Marshall,” said Kruse. “Not only do we perform breast surgeries, you have access to advanced imaging technology, local biopsy and testing, radiation oncology, chemotherapy, support care, home medical equipment for prosthetics, and social services.”

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