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How a Physical Therapy Visit Ended with a Cancer Diagnosis

by -

Karen Becker Breast Cancer Survivor

Karen Becker thought the discomfort near her armpit was a pinched nerve or a pulled muscle. It turned out to be much, much more.

Her curiosity about the discomfort led her to Community Memorial Hospital – UnityPoint Health in Sumner, where Physical Therapist Justin Trainor began to investigate. Upon evaluation, he noticed something suspicious and quickly referred her to a primary care provider at the hospital.

“Physical therapists are trained to follow through with a thorough evaluation and review systems that are suspect to make the correct referral,” Trainor says. “We are fortunate to have the team here (at CMH) that quickly follows up on those concerns to meet the patient’s needs.”


The primary care provider ordered a 3D mammogram and Becker heard the words no one wants to hear, “You have cancer.”

“It all worked so quickly, which makes you feel like a priority,” Becker says. “I think that’s important for the patient, if we feel everybody is communicating with each other. It’s a good feeling to know that everyone’s on top of things.”

Having the best team is as essential as having the best equipment like the Genius™ 3D Mammography™ exam. Community Memorial Hospital became the first health care facility in Iowa to use the second generation of this type of technology, which is the latest in breast cancer screening. Becker was one of the first women to benefit from it.

“It helps detect a lot more and a lot sooner,” Becker says, “and it’s way more comfortable for the woman.”

Once the tumor was identified, Becker completed 16 rounds of chemotherapy under the guidance of Dr. Wael Ghalayini at UnityPoint Health – Allen Hospital in Waterloo. Finally, surgeons performed a double mastectomy.

Becker now finds herself living life again – baking cookies, working in her flower garden and more.

“That’s what really motivates us, as physicians,” Dr. Ghalayini says, affectionately known as “Dr. G” to his patients. “To hear people are getting back to their normal lives, that’s really what keeps us going – that we can make an impact on somebody’s life.”

Becker is celebrating being cancer-free and pain-free. Looking back, she’s especially grateful for the UnityPoint Health response – the early detection, the providers’ responsiveness, and how cohesively all parts of the system worked together to make her care a top priority.

“My attitude has changed,” Becker says. “Don't wait if there's pain. I know mammograms can be uncomfortable, but cancer’s way more uncomfortable. It’s so important, and I learned that the hard way.”