Cathy Hinshaw, now 76, was no ordinary 1950s girl. She grew up playing not one, not two, but three sports—all incredibly well. At college in California, she joined the basketball, volleyball, and tennis teams. In the summer, she played semi-pro softball.
Even as an adult, Hinshaw kept moving, teaching PE during the day and swimming after school.
But a breast cancer diagnosis in 2002 finally slowed her down. Instead of celebrating athletes at the Winter Olympics in Utah, she drove to radiation and chemotherapy, which left her with neuropathy, especially in her left leg.
She could still golf, swim, hike, and bike—but not as well as she used to.
Then, shortly after she retired from teaching, endometrial cancer spread aggressively to her liver and lungs. After only one round of chemotherapy, the always-athletic former PE teacher couldn't walk.
People had to carry her around her own house. She progressed to a walker and eventually a cane after 13 chemo treatments and 8- to 10-hour days at Huntsman Cancer Institute.
I couldn't feel the bottom of my feet. My balance was all messed up. My legs were really weak. My muscles were really small.
A specialist told her there was little hope of improvement. That's when Hinshaw finally met Yvonne Savarise, a physical therapist at Alpine Sports Physical Therapy in Park City, in the fall of 2021.
Hinshaw was ready to get to work.
“I usually don't give people a lot of exercises because they won't do them," explained Savarise, who has been a PT for more than 20 years.
But Hinshaw kept asking for more, so the physical therapist gave her nine sheets of balance activities, stretches, and strengthening exercises, which Hinshaw dutifully completed in a motor home during a trip to San Diego. Then, she returned to continue her PT with Savarise.
A few months later, in the spring of 2022, Hinshaw had improved so much she could feel her feet. She drove from Park City to Salt Lake City on her own.
“For me, as a clinician, that was a huge victory," Savarise recalled.
By the end of May, she could walk two to three miles with her trekking poles. Only 15 months before, she had been using a walker.
Hinshaw was such a dedicated, determined patient that she came to PT 30 times in 2022. Once the new year starts, she plans to return for more.
I think all the accolades go to Cathy. Her commitment to doing the best she could is way more impactful than the ideas I gave her in therapy. She made my job easy.
But Hinshaw praised Savarise, her expertise, and her positive attitude.
“I would get depressed over not making as much progress as I thought I was going to make," Hinshaw remembered. “She was always right there to say, 'Be a buffalo and run into the wind—instead of running away from it.' It's kind of been my motto ever since."
Savarise said she always looked forward to their sessions because Hinshaw “valued what we were doing and gave me 110 percent," the therapist said. “I gave her 110 percent and we developed a bond."
By the end of 2022, Hinshaw was still receiving “maintenance" chemotherapy every three weeks but—thanks to physical therapy—continuing to improve.
“It used to be that my muscles ached all night," she said. “Now I can sleep."
Patients' spirits don't always follow the rules, Savarise said. Even if a doctor tells a patient they may not be be able to do something again, a patient can prove them wrong.
Savarise says Hinshaw is the perfect example: “She's the kind of person who says, 'Let's see about that!'''
Written by: U of U Health Contributing writer Julia Lyon