Brenda’s story: Fighting stroke and battling cancer during a COVID-19 pandemic
Brenda Stover of Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania is a fighter, and she isn’t going to let a stroke get in the way of her pancreatic cancer battle and getting back to the life she knew before. You can read more about life after stroke on the American Stroke Association’s website. The American Stroke Association’s Together to End Stroke initiative is nationally sponsored by Encompass Health.
Witnessing her unrivaled perseverance during her three weeks at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, Stover’s therapy team would agree.
“No matter what was thrown Brenda’s way—and believe me it was a lot—she met the challenge with a smile and unmatched determination,” said Abbie Doberstein, one of Stover’s physical therapists. “We challenged her with something one day, and she was so driven and competitive with herself that she conquered it in no time.”
“Ms. Stover was so motivated to improve and had such a great attitude considering everything she was going through,” added Bre Tressler, one of Stover’s occupational therapists.
Stover was halfway through chemo treatments for pancreatic cancer, when she had an embolic stroke. While the stroke had minimal effects on her speech and cognition, it caused the entire left side of her body to become weak, which put her on an alternative route to inpatient rehabilitation to help her regain strength and function of her arm and leg.
Signs of progress
When admitted to an in-patient rehabilitation hospital, the therapy team used a variety of techniques and technologies to help her learn to mobilize, transfer and perform self-care activities.
“When she first started with us, we worked on her core, sitting balance, and transfers,” said Jen Mckernan, a physical therapist on Stover’s care team. “Then we progressed her to standing weight-bearing activities and lower extremity exercises and also walking with a specialized treadmill.”
The body-weight supported treadmill reproduces a walking pattern for the patient and was used in Stover’s gait training. It was also a way that she could measure her personal success. On the first day using the treadmill, she recalls taking 523 steps with the technology’s assistance and was excited when she progressed to 726 steps three days later.
Stover also remembers the moment she felt movement again in one of her affected limbs.
In a different therapy activity, Stover would lay on her back on a mat and make a back and forth motion with a roller skate on her left foot on the mat. When she first performed the exercise, the therapy team helped her do the back and forth motion. Then, the following week, Stover repeated the activity and was able to control the movement on her own.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the gym the first day she was able to move her left leg in a session with her primary physical therapist,” Doberstein said. “When patients realize they are regaining function or getting closer to fulfilling the roles that are important to them—in Brenda’s case mother, wife, teacher, friend, coworker/employee and world traveler just to name a few—it is the single best thing that keeps reminding me that I love what I do.”
A strong support network
Aside from her nursing and therapy teams, Stover had many others cheering her through her recovery.
"Her wonderful support system really helped her stay positive and was very supportive considering the circumstances of COVID-19,” Tressler said.
Stover’s strong support system includes her husband, who she affectionately calls her “rock,” her large family and a special group of girlfriends made up of childhood friends and her sister-in-law, who made sure Stover knew she wasn’t going through this alone.
During a time when there were visitor restrictions due to COVID-19 safety measures, her girlfriends got creative and surprised Stover outside of the window of her hospital room while donning T-shirts from a girls’ trip they took to Panama City, Florida, and holding signs with supportive messages.
“I was really taken by surprise,” Stover said. “It was a really sweet thing for them to do.”
The next steps
Stover is excited to return to her regular routine. She’s hoping to become more independent through additional in-home therapy, return to her job in the fall as a post-secondary school medical coding instructor, spend time with her family, travel and shop.
Most importantly, Stover is ready to get back on track so that she can tackle her initial battle. “I’m ready to beat cancer.”