One day in 2015, while riding in the car with her mother, eighth-grader Lauren Scalise overheard her mother Stephanie take a phone call.
“She got this random phone call, and we pulled over so she could answer it,” said Lauren. “I was confused until she hung up the phone, looked me in the eyes and told me she had breast cancer.”
The two sat by the side of the road in silence while processing what they had just learned, and then the tears flowed.
“I couldn’t believe that my strong and resilient mom would be the one going through breast cancer, and there was nothing I could do to stop it,” said Lauren.
Perhaps no diagnosis is as devastating to women as breast cancer. Besides threatening a woman’s life, it usually entails excruciating treatments and surgery, bodily mutilation, long, painful recovery, loss of mental and emotional well-being and terror for loved ones.
For Stephanie Scalise, it was Stage 3 and resulted in a double mastectomy and multiple other surgeries — all in one year. During treatment, she began to suffer lymphedema, a debilitating swelling that results from a blockage in the lymphatic system, an all-too frequent result of the surgery.
Stephanie soon couldn’t move her left arm. That’s when she was referred to TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation in Sandy Springs. After six months of lymphatic massage three times a week, she regained the use of her left arm.
“They gave me my life back,” said Stephanie.
“I felt like I was getting my mom back,” said Lauren.
That same year, grateful for what TurningPoint had done for their mother, Lauren and her two older sisters started an annual fundraiser called Strides for Survivors, which continues to this day.
“I want people to know how amazing TurningPoint is. They were able to really help our mom while she was going through treatments, but they’re still helping her now, four years cancer free,” she said.
Founded in 2003 by physical therapist and two-time breast cancer survivor Jill Binkley, TurningPoint offers physical therapy, massage therapy, emotional support, exercise classes, nutritional counseling and educational programs — all with the goal of helping breast cancer patients live their best lives.
According to a board member, it’s the only organization in metro Atlanta that offers “all of this under one roof with the same degree of thoroughness.”
Testimonials posted on the TurningPoint website repeatedly highlight the care and compassion with which the services are provided and the personal relationships that grow from them.
“You feel safe,” said one.
“You can be honest about how you feel, as opposed to having to be strong for your family,” said another.
In 2017, Binkley retired from her role as executive director to work on special projects so that a more experienced leader could come and begin spreading TurningPoint’s message and methodology to other parts of the country.
That leader is Marilyn Pink, who in December assumed the role. Previously CEO of California-based Educata.com, an online continuing education resource for physical therapy professionals that she helped launch, Pink was uniquely ready for the challenges the pandemic would soon pose.
When she was just a few months into her new job, everything began to shut down. Thanks to her experience with Educata’s online learning, she brought all of TurningPoint’s services online in what she calls the “support puzzle for breast cancer patients during COVID-19.”
“TurningPoint is so unique it needs to be grown into other locations, and COVID gave us the opportunity for tele-rehab,” she said. “Now we can serve other areas of Georgia and other states, as well as develop relationships with physical therapists who have never developed anything specifically for breast cancer. In just six months, we’ve already had 6,000 views of our educational pieces.”
With tele-rehab operating smoothly, Pink sees a combination of online and on-site services for when the economy reopens, though she says she and Binkley are still figuring out how to nurture the personal relationships built during on-site services that patients value the most. How to continue to “treat the whole woman” while staying online is the challenge.
The other thing Pink is still figuring out is how to meet people and get to know metro Atlanta since she had barely gotten settled in her new Sandy Springs apartment when everything shut down.
TurningPoint’s mission is to serve everyone regardless of ability to pay. If you know of anyone, male or female, struggling with breast cancer recovery, please go to myturningpoint.org.