“We got the results back from your biopsy and we have a little surprise,” my doctor told me. It was 8 pm on a Thursday evening, December 4, 2015, when I received a phone call from my oncology surgeon to tell me that I had breast cancer. I was in my mid-30s, happily married, and with four children ages 9, 7, 5, and 2 years old. I was working as a physical therapist in the home health sector. This was not the time for cancer. But cancer knows no mistress and I was no exception. I had two choices, play or fold. It was a lousy hand, and I did not have an ace in my pocket. So, I played the hand that I was dealt.
Fast forward two years later, I had successfully completed treatment involving three surgeries and multiple rounds of chemotherapy. I was still recovering from the effects of treatment, physically, emotionally, and spiritually when one evening I turned to my husband and said, “I think I need to open my own clinic.” At this point, he turned to me and lovingly said, “I think the chemo fried your brain.” He was right.
I had not been happy with my profession for quite some time. I was continuously blocked by red tape imposed upon me by our health care system. It was a health care system that had taken great care of me when I was a cancer patient, but it was still a health care system that was doing a disservice to my patients over and over again. After 15 years of practice, I just wanted to focus on my work with amputees and teach them how to walk again. On January 4, 2018, I opened Palanca, Inc, an outpatient physical therapy center that exclusively serves the limb loss community. But this wasn’t enough. There were so few physical therapists in the United States with amputee experience that some folks started calling us “unicorns.” So, I went online and found amputee support groups to join. I was appalled at what I saw and read. So many were asking and looking for basic information that should have been readily available to them right after their surgeries.
“How do I find a prosthetist?” “My prosthesis really hurts, and I can’t walk is this normal?” “Why can’t I get off the walker?”
I looked like a rabid football fan yelling at my computer screen. “Why aren’t you seeing a PT? Talk to your prosthetist! Your leg SHOULD NOT HURT!”
This is where Cosi Talks began. For the first year, I went live on Facebook every Wednesday evening at 8:30 pm after putting my kids to bed. I answered questions from my viewers about their recovery from limb loss. I discussed topics such as proprioception and prosthetic feet classifications so my audience could in turn have conversations with their clinicians.
Shortly afterwards, I started receiving the support of O&P companies such as College Park Industries, Blatchford, and Vital Fit. These companies recognized my efforts to bring credible information to amputees and they wanted to help. Emails began pouring in from amputees all around the world asking me their questions. Prosthetists and PTs would also call and email asking for help to find rehabilitation resources for their patients.
In March 2020, when COVID-19 hit the United States, it shut down everything. Any opportunities the limb loss community had to maintain mobility and fitness through clinics and adaptive sports was gone. And the irony? There were hundreds of personal fitness programs springing up all over the internet and app services catering to those who were shut in their homes and wanted to maintain their fitness and health but nothing for amputees. Necessity is the mother of invention.
I brought in models, a photographer and videographer — and from my own home, we filmed close to 200 segments and took over 2,000 pictures. At the time we did the filming, I still didn’t know what the end product would look like, but I knew it was going to fill a void in my patients’ and viewers’ lives.
On November 3, 2021, I launched Cosi Talks Strong Body website. Subscribers have access to over 150 exercise videos for above the knee and below the knee amputees. These exercises are adapted for arm, leg and core strengthening plus balance and flexibility. Each body segment is divided into three phases for beginner, intermediate and advanced. There is something for everyone — from the individual just coming out of surgery, through the athlete looking to PR in their next race.
But wait, there’s more. Remember those 2,000 pictures? They were made into two, full size, full color books — one for above the knee and one for below the knee amputees. Each exercise video on the online subscription has a corresponding book entry. And true to Cosi Talks style, there is a LOT of education. There is information on how to do the exercises; when, and what form should be used, with and without prosthesis; and sitting and standing with and without a walker. It’s all covered.
But wait, there’s even more! In December 2021, I started a new daytime talk show on Facebook, Wednesdays at 11am EST. This talk show is to help troubleshoot these exercises. I understand there has not been anything like this before, and I would like to make sure support is available for amputees to benefit from the program and maximize mobility.
An unexpected outcome from this project was the realization that this has the potential to fill a void in clinics. With this book and video series, any licensed physical therapist can begin to construct a plan of care for their amputee patients. Several subscribers have taken my programs to their PT sessions and have even bought a book for their clinician as a gift! Clinicians serving the limb loss community also can gift their patients with a subscription with packages I have created for clinics. This is only the beginning — it took me two years of planning to bring this to fruition and I still have more work to do. I have come a long way from the woman who was afraid from a cancer diagnosis, and I still have a long journey ahead in continuing to serve this community. God is not done with me yet.