When patients come to Collins Physical Therapy Institute in Naples, Kelly Nelson often senses they’re unsure, anxious, scared.
“They don’t know what PT is,” she said. “They don’t know if it’ll make them feel worse or better.
“So I share my story and tell how they helped me.”
Nelson knows how life can change in a few months. On Dec. 4, 2017, she had a clean mammogram. In April 2018, she felt a lump after a self-examination.
By that July, the lump had grown to 7½ centimeters, which led to a diagnosis of Stage 3C breast cancer.
Doctors were aggressive. After they put a port in, they started chemotherapy within nine days of the diagnosis. Chemo continued for six months. She also had 18 months of immunotherapy and 33 radiation treatments.
Chemo allowed her to keep her right breast, but she needed a partial mastectomy on the left side.
“It’s a lot harder than anything, but it’s part of being a woman,” the Naples resident said. “It changed the way I looked. People knew I was sick and knowing what it did to my family bothered me.”
Nelson had owned a cleaning and home-watch business, and “that all came to a screeching halt” for two years.
“My whole world fell apart,” she said. “A lot of people who are diagnosed feel they’re gonna die or life is not gonna be the same. It can be very scary.”
Nelson received a lot of support, beginning with her husband of 30 years, Tony. They attended Florida State after they had children.
“He came home with a big sign that he put up on the wall by my side of bed,” she recalled. “It said, ‘She believed she could so she did.’
“He’s my rock. He and my mom are my driving forces.”
Judy Fuller, Nelson’s mom, is a two-time breast-cancer survivor. She said Nelson was there when she went through her challenges.
“Without Kelly, I don’t know what I would’ve done,” Fuller said. “She was there 24-7 while she worked a job.
“She’s a strong individual who doesn’t take no for an answer and investigates everything. If she doesn’t know, she’ll find something or somebody that will help. She’s a very loving and caring person. She’s strong and she’s a fighter, a warrior.”
And then there were Nelson’s five brothers.
“They pulled out all the stops,” she said. “Emotionally, financially, I didn’t have to ask.
“Oh my gosh, they created a special Facebook page and put reports up. When I’d go through something different with the doctors, they were full of support. It makes the time fly by. And when I couldn’t bear it, they’d be on the phone.”
From her experiences, Nelson realized the importance of having a group of people to rely on when times get tough.
That’s why she felt so connected to the staff at Collier Physical Therapy.
Because of the chemotherapy, Nelson’s muscle mass had deteriorated. She needed to rehabilitate her shoulder and upper back. Staff members not only helped her build her strength back, but they also helped in her emotional healing.
“They were such a big part of me getting well,” she said.
Dr. Michael White, Collins Physical Therapy Institute’s clinical director, said Nelson remained positive as she dealt with pain in her recovery.
“She always has a great outlook,” White said. “She had numerous rounds of chemo and there was prolonged sitting. With surgical intervention, there’s stretching of tissue that is common when you have breast cancer. It requires some form of PT.
“Now Kelly has minimal symptoms as this point. She self-manages her exercise program. She is no longer an active patient with us, but if she has any issues, she has access to us.”
The super-power cape she wears on occasion is a testament to her impact on those around.
Nelson made such a great impression on the staff, they joined her on a breast-cancer walk, which happened most recently on Oct. 17.
They also welcomed her on as a team member. She works at the front desk and schedules patients. On Oct. 19, she received a promotion.
“I can’t speak highly enough for what Kelly does,” White said. “Her advocacy for the organization is outstanding. She’s a driven individual who brings a lot of positivity.
“She’s advocating for not only herself but for her patients. She’s fighting day in and out for them.”
Nelson doesn’t know how long she’ll be with Collins Physical Therapy, but she does know this is the place she needs to be now.
“I have a purpose again,” she said. “So many people are hurting physically and emotionally. They come in and they’re discouraged, dealing with pain. We’re able to build them up.
“We take such pride in that. We do what we’re capable of, whether that’s being a cheerleader or listener. And when you see them standing up and no longer are walking with a cane, you feel like you really did something.”
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