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Longtime nurse is back on her feet

May 22, 2014

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Rehabilitation at the Duke Health and Fitness Center helped Cindy McAbee regain her strength after sarcoma.

Thirty-eight years of nursing has taken a toll on Cindy McAbee’s joints. “So much time spent standing on those hard floors has just worn me out,” she says.

In fact, the 60-year-old grandmother had her first hip replacement at age 50. She joined Duke Health and Fitness Center Arthritis Rehabilitation Program to prepare her body for the procedure. “I wanted to get as strong as I could before the hip surgery,” says Cindy. She did water exercises and worked on her balance. As a result, her recovery went well and she was back on the job in no time.

Four years later, however, Cindy faced something much more serious. “When I went in to see the doctor about pain in my other hip, they discovered a 17-cm. tumor on my calf,” she says. Diagnosis: a sarcoma, a type of cancer that develops in soft tissue.  “I was out of work for the next year for treatment,” says Cindy.

Radiation, surgery and more radiation were followed by a transplant of muscle, artery and vein taken from her back and placed in her leg. “I was in the bed for a month – I could not move,” she says.

Fortunately, the cancer treatment was successful, but it left Cindy weaker than ever before. She decided to return to the Fitness Center and, once again, Cindy found her strength. This time, she enlisted the help of a personal trainer to keep her motivated.

“I knew if I didn’t have an appointment, I wouldn’t go,” she says. “So I requested training with Michelle twice a week and on the third day I go on my own.” Three years later and still going strong, Cindy says that was the best decision she could have made.

“I adore Michelle − she is like a daughter to me,” says Cindy. “We laugh and bicker, which makes it fun. But we work hard, too. Like all of the staff, Michelle goes above and beyond. She knows my past history and my health goals. She knows my knees are the next to go, so she’s mindful of that during workouts. When my son recommended a program to help me live and eat healthier, Michelle helped me through it, taking measurements weekly and encouraging me.

“When I came to the center, I was pre-diabetic. Now my doctor says my numbers  − cholesterol, blood pressure − look like a 16-year-old’s. If I didn’t have this gym, I know I wouldn’t be doing as well.”

Cindy is now back to working full time as a nurse manager at the Durham VA Medical Center. And she has no plans to retire. “I can’t stop now,” she says.

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