who we are
After recently being diagnosed with breast cancer and having undergone double mastectomies herself, Michele realized that she had knowledge as an occupational therapist that most people with breast cancer wouldn’t have available to them. It became clear that there is a “gap” in the continuum of care for people who have had breast surgery or reconstruction. There is a need for more education, and empowerment, throughout the journey.
Michele earned her B.S. in Occupational Therapy from Quinnipiac University in 1997. She is on schedule to complete a Certificate of Healthcare Compliance in 2015, also from Quinnipiac University. Michele’s clinical expertise includes, but is not limited to, people who have orthopedic, neurological, cardiac and pulmonary diagnoses. During her 18 years of clinical experience she has held managerial positions at Maimonides Medical Center and St. Mary’s Hospital for Children homecare division. Michele was presented with the peer-nominated ESPRIT award from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Throughout her career she has treated many women post mastectomy, both in the hospital and at home. She is a certified instructor for the Pink Ribbon Program, a post-mastectomy exercise program. Michele believes that her knowledge and expertise are now best utilized helping those who are about to undergo or are recovering from breast surgery return to independence.
BE INSPIRED: Pink Lotus Therapy
"Nothing. That’s what I heard after the voice on the other end of the phone told me I had breast cancer. I knew he was talking, I wanted to listen, but I heard nothing. How I got from that moment to where I am today is still somewhat of a blur. For that reason I believe this is what I was meant to do.
It was just weeks after my 40th birthday and my first “routine” mammogram. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 1b, in my right breast. My decision to have bilateral mastectomies was made while I waited optimistically for my biopsy results. After meeting with my breast surgeon and plastic surgeon, I opted for tissue expanders followed by implants. I was fortunate to have been placed in the care of the best clinicians in the field by whichever theory you subscribe to – God, fate or luck. Although I struggled emotionally, I knew what I was doing was right for me.
After surgery, my mind wandered while I spent time bonding with my couch. With 18 years’ experience as an occupational therapist under my belt, I felt confident in my decisions and my ability to rehabilitate myself through the initial stages of recovery. I realized that I knew how to get around the house, position myself comfortably on the couch and in bed, how to dress myself, what exercises to do, and more importantly, what not to do. I wondered how other women in this situation were managing. Who was guiding them? How could I not share my knowledge, and now my personal experience, to help others? I was compelled to do something.
After bouncing my ideas off of a few trusted friends in the field I began to put my plan into action. I utilized my time off from work to get as much accomplished as possible. I chose a name for and incorporated my business, Pink Lotus Therapy. The lotus seemed a very fitting symbol – what we see is a beautiful flower rising up from the water, but what isn’t visible is the sludgy waters it came up from to get to where it is. I hired a marketing company to design the logo, website, brochures and cards. It was the perfect time to start networking and attending professional conferences about breast cancer. I became certified in The Pink Ribbon Program, a Pilates-based exercise program used to return to fitness after breast surgery.
At the same time I was putting my practice together I was a patient at Full Circle Physical Therapy. Diana Tjaden, the founder of Full Circle, was my therapist. I shared my ideas with her during our sessions. Pink Lotus Therapy could visit patients post-operatively at home for instruction in daily living skills, mobility and beginning exercises. We agreed that if we worked together we could create a continuum of care. We would be able to “catch” a patient in any stage of treatment or recovery, including pre-surgical assessments, post-operative home visits, outpatient physical therapy visits in the office and wellness/fitness classes. We brought our idea to Mollie Sugarman and the doctors at Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, PC. Pink Lotus Therapy and Full Circle Physical Therapy now work very closely with the practice and spend at least one day per month treating patients in their office.
It’s still surreal to me when I walk into that office not as a patient, but to work, less than 2 years after my diagnosis. I have no doubt I’m where I’m supposed to be. If I can empower people with the knowledge and skill they need to ease the process then I’ve met my goal. My hope is that we cure breast cancer and there will be no need for Pink Lotus Therapy. Then you will be able to find me selling shells on the beach in the Caribbean."