I really don’t talk much about lymphedema. But here goes. Lymphedema can occur at any time after a mastectomy to remove breast cancer. At least, that’s what happened to me.
Lymphedema is the swelling of the arm, in this case, due to the removal or damage to lymph nodes located in the arm pits. If normal drainage cannot occur fluid builds up in the tissues in the affected area. There are other symptoms including decreased feeling in tendons in the affected area. For the record, Breast cancer treatment is the most common cause of this condition. (Mayoclinic.org; MedicineNet.com)
Years ago, women who had breast cancer routinely had their arms swell noticeably after the removal of a significant number of these cells. Recently, a new procedure is used which allows taking fewer cells. However, sometimes sampling a few more nodes is necessary to make sure the cancer has not spread. Again, my experience.
Since the lymphatic system is throughout the body, there are somethings I can do to affect the flow of lymph. There are gloves and sleeves are worn to decrease or control swelling. The designs are interesting and modern. (These sleeves, gloves or gauntlets however, are not cheap! “How do people pay for these necessary items without insurance?”) Compression sleeve information & links to hot styles. Check out the lymphDiva link!
Anyway, I need to wear my sleeve more often because my arm is starting to swell more than it had in the past few years. When I get a sunburn, scratch or injure that arm, I can expect some swelling. I do wear a heavy-duty compression release flow sleeve (my name for it) some nights. It usually takes some of the swelling down. I try to do what they say about keeping my arm above my heart throughout the day and not picking up heavy objects with that hand. But, I forget sometimes.
(This is a bit harder to write about than I had imagined. I am starting to feel a bit sad. This is something I live with which doesn’t slow me down and I seldom think about unless I’m trying to put on my wedding ring or the bracelet I like that I have to now wear on the other arm. But in the real scheme of things, it’s nothing. You see, no one can tell that I or others have lymphedema, unless we tell them. Nonetheless, I tend to be a bit self-conscious about my left arm. P.S. Don’t bring it up, because I am not normally thinking about it.)
After the mastectomy, I returned home and had protocols to follow. I had to make sure I performed my breathing exercises to clear my lungs. (Some parts we are skipping here, TMI – i.e., drains, fatigue, people taking care of you, etc.) I went to rehabilitation therapy to make sure my arm had a complete range of motion and Strides to Strength to make sure I did not lose any strength due to the breast cancer experience. It was a lot! Strides brought me back beyond where my original strength goals were prior to the surgery. Throughout the lumpectomy, chemo and radiation I continued to teach. “Hey, I needed to do something to take my mind off of what was happening to my body.” However, I did have the good sense to take time off after the mastectomy.
Jumping Jacks or Harriettes
One of the major ways you can move lymph is jumping on a mini-trampoline. Lymph does not circulate like blood in your body. Massage also works to move the lymph, but not ordinary massage. Stroking your arm must be more feather-like or light touch and toward your heart. (Your rehabilitation therapist can walk you through a lymph drawing massage and there are YouTube videos illustrating this also.) Link to Lymph Drainage Massage
Exercise! Jumping on a mini-trampoline for 15-20 minutes a day may be a good length of time to jump to keep the lymph moving. Rebounding is beneficial. As for continuing to move the lymph, regardless of one’s health status, it is suggested that we continue doing it routinely. For those with lymphedema, follow the therapist’s suggestion which could be weekly, daily or some other schedule.
Note: The massage and mini-trampoline were used after the mastectomy area had healed and I was released to resume normal activities.