Ep. 154 – From survivor to specialist: one PT’s journey

I spoke with Dr. Abby Hegerfeld, PT, DPT about her journey from cancer survivor to oncology physical therapy. During her battle with cancer, she describes some of the effects of the treatment and what she learned. Following her treatment, she decided to sit for the Oncology Specialist Certification Exam. Her experience as a patient helped her connect with the information and her patients more effectively. In this interview, she discusses ways to prepare for the exam and how she was able to pass the exam despite having residual brain fog from her treatment. 

Being a cancer patient herself opened up new avenues for research, for example, autonomic dysfunction and exercise. She has been able to help her patients regain their strength with the help of her own experience and research. Some of these recommendations include using an elliptical machine, getting into a pool, and riding a bike, since they do not cause flares as much as being on your feet.

Dr. Abby’s story is inspiring. This interview is a must listen if you are thinking about adding oncology to your practice. You will find so many great tools, tips, and suggestions about how to prepare for your Oncology Specialist Certification Exam and how to care for your oncology patients. 

Grab the Exam Resource Guide HERE!

About Abby

Professionally, I graduated from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in 2013. Since then I have worked in acute care, inpatient rehab, and hospital outpatient clinics. In acute care, I worked with post surgical orthopedic patients, wound care, and on the oncology floor primarily. While working in inpatient rehab, I treated neurological conditions, as well as, traumatic injuries, and oncology patients trying to get strong enough to go back home. I then made the transition to outpatient PT and initially worked as an orthopedic manual physical therapist treating complex orthopedic, chronic pain, POTS, and oncology. However, when I came to the outpatient clinic I currently work for, they were wanting to start up Oncology Rehab programs in addition to the Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer programs already established. I was more than thrilled to start this, as I was finding the common theme that I loved working with this population. As of today, our clinic has programs specific to Breast, Head and Neck, Lung, Hematological Malignancies, and Sarcoma Cancer. Our pelvic physical therapists also treat prostate, lower GI, and gynecological cancers. In addition to the specific tumor site programs, we also see patients suffering from CIPN, fatigue, deconditioning, balance/falls, or patient’s trying to prepare themselves to return to work.


Dr. Abby Hegerfeld, PT is a cancer survivor. Diagnosed with stage 3b Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2017. As a result, she was off work for 9-10 months and needed work to regain the stamina to return to work full time. The experience allowed her to connect with patients in a way she could not before, and while it wasn’t an ideal memory, she has also found it useful for her work in oncology.

Bullet Points:

  • Oncology Specialist Certification 
  • Physical Therapist
  • Diagnosed with stage 3b Hodgkin’s lymphoma 
  • Impatient and Outpatient Specialties
  • Complex orthopedic and chronic pain
  • Post-operative orthopedic patients and wound care

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