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Study promotes wellness among underserved women with breast cancer

Dr. Julie Hunley, assistant professor of occupational therapy at Mount Mary University, pursued her chosen field as second career because she sought to have a more direct and positive impact on people’s lives. And her recent research has deepened her commitment to that fundamental purpose.

Hunley began a journey that led her to the study of occupational therapy and ultimately a faculty position at Mount Mary, where she has found herself leading efforts to apply the positive attributes of yoga to women recovering from breast cancer.

“Breast cancer can be devastating to mind, body, and spirit. I wanted to be able to decrease health risk and increase self-efficacy,” she said. “Yoga seemed to be a reasonable vehicle to be able to do that.”

Hunley noted that breast cancer mortality is 39 percent higher for African Americans, and health disparities are compounded by poverty in Milwaukee, where 38 percent of African Americans live below the federal poverty level. Physical activity has been identified by the American Cancer Society as a way to reduce disease risk for African American breast cancer survivors, yet access in Milwaukee to neighborhood health and wellness services is limited.

To further explore a link between yoga and survivorship, Hunley located an existing wellness group called Sisters 4 Cure and worked with them to recruit about 20 African American women, who came to Mount Mary for six weeks in the summer of 2015 for the yoga wellness study.

As the six weeks came to an end, the women reported less pain and greater ability to enjoy the important activities of life. Hunley’s work is generating national attention. She presented at the American Occupational Therapy Association Conference in Chicago and at the Medical College of Wisconsin last April.

“It’s the relationship building with the women themselves, and seeing their capacity for everyday life increase,” she said.