Women of Industry: Julie Lombardo, therapeutic cancer fighter

Her enthusiasts believe the Capitol Physical Therapy CEO has revolutionized how cancer care is delivered to include physical therapy as a standard part of care delivery.

Julie Lombardo is a breast cancer survivor and a physical therapist that wants to increase the survival rates of others. Her enthusiasts believe Lombardo, CEO of Capitol Physical Therapy, has revolutionized how cancer care is delivered to include physical therapy as a standard part of care delivery, a practice now endorsed by local oncologists and sought after by patients.

While Lombardo thinks revolutionized is a strong way to put it, she will take credit for raising awareness in the local medical community about the role physical therapy can play in the recovery of breast cancer patients. More specifically, she is an active proponent of the growth of oncology “PT” specialists, which has been a gap in the care of the breast cancer patient in the local geographic area.

Lombardo is particularly enthusiastic about the Prospective Surveillance Model, which she calls the gold standard of care for breast cancer patients and is supported by both the American Cancer Society and the American Physical Therapy Association. Her role is to raise awareness of this gold standard of care, which includes adding physical therapy to the care plans of women undergoing breast cancer treatment. 

For bringing this simple but important idea to local cancer therapy, Lombardo has been selected to the 2017 Women of Industry class.

Join the movement

As Lombardo explains, physical therapists are “movement specialists.” Regardless of the body region involved, PTs help optimize how a person moves as a result of pain or weakness. This can occur after a post-surgical condition from breast cancer or a total joint replacement, or as the result of overuse athletic injuries, or simple low back and neck pain.

With breast cancer treatment, physical therapists specialize in oncology PT to restore mobility after breast surgery, and they understand how to properly rehabilitate a patient both during and after radiation and chemotherapy. Their emphasis is on the restoration of range of motion and strength to the chest, shoulder, and abdominal regions.

“Exercise is nature’s ‘polypill,’ notes Lombardo, “in that it’s beneficial for virtually every medical condition.”

That includes preventing a recurrence of cancer. “For example, biochemistry research on myokines, which are muscle proteins, suggests that active muscle pumping helps overcome pro-inflammatory cytokines, therefore reducing the recurrence risk of cancer,” Lombardo explains. “Furthermore, exercise reduces cancer-related fatigue by 40% to 50%, which is prevalent in 80% of patients undergoing chemotherapy and 90% of patients undergoing radiation.”

On a personal level, oncology specific rehab has helped Lombardo in her recovery from cancer. In fact, her personal experience is exactly how this mission started for her. Although Lombardo’s medical providers were experts in how to eradicate the cancer, no one during her entire course of care ever asked her if she could raise her arms or move her chest, or if she had returned to doing anything she loves to do. In her case, that includes boot-camp style workouts at the gym and waterskiing.

“As a physical therapist, I couldn’t help but logically think, ‘Why isn’t physical therapy a bigger piece of this picture?’” she asks. “It certainly wasn’t that I was receiving poor care. I was receiving world-class care, but it was missing a critical rehabilitation component. Health care professionals are simply not accustomed to asking important questions about how patients can optimize movement and return to full function and quality of life once on the other side of the cancer itself.”

During her own care, Lombardo relied on her team of therapists to stretch her shoulder and chest area after undergoing a mastectomy. They did another round of therapy to ensure she restored full mobility after axillary dissection surgery, and they made sure Lombardo maintained full mobility during six weeks of radiation treatments and watched closely for signs of lymphedema. Together, they advanced Lombardo’s gym workouts to help her regain strength following guidelines specific for cancer patients.

“It has been easy for me to have the confidence and motivation to continue exercising because research suggests that exercise prevents recurrence and combats fatigue,” Lombardo says. “Dedicating myself to an active physical therapy recovery process has allowed me to return to everything I physically love to do. I am saddened by the fact that not everyone’s experience is similar to mine simply because of a lack of awareness of the role of exercise and physical therapy after breast surgery.”



Lombardo notes that Capitol Physical Therapy has received tremendous support from oncologists and other providers who recognize the important role that therapy plays in the recovery from cancer. Patients appreciate being able to see a therapist who has “walked in their shoes,” and specializing in oncology rehab has also renewed her own passion as a therapist.

Asked why the local medical community had never embraced this concept before, she attributed it to a simple lack of awareness. “We have incredible care for cancer in Madison, some of the best in the world, actually. There simply was and still is an ongoing awareness issue,” Lombardo says. “In physicians’ defense, we ask our surgeons and oncologists to rid us of cancer, and they are great at doing that. We ask our plastic surgeons to restore our anatomy back to something we can call the new normal, and they are fantastic at doing this.

“I feel it’s my responsibility as a women’s health physical-therapy specialist and cancer survivor to emphasize how we can work collaboratively to elevate the care for breast cancer patients in our region by implementing the gold standard of care,” she adds. “Health care providers who specialize in breast cancer have readily embraced our role when made aware and are increasingly enthusiastic about referring patients to oncology PT specialists as an integral part of breast cancer treatment.”

Humbling honor

For Lombardo, the Women of Industry honor is incredible and humbling because it recognizes the passion she has for working with breast cancer patients. “I thoroughly enjoy helping these women based on my knowledge, personal experience, and hands-on skills,” she says. “If, one by one, I can make someone’s journey just a tad easier, then I am doing something right in life. There is no greater joy I receive than hearing about one of our patients getting back to the things they love to do after breast cancer.”

Read the rest of our 2017 Women of Industry features:

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