Lymphedema = Swelling of the arm after a mastectomy and/or radiation.
In a healthy human body, muscles contract and move fluid through the lymph nodes regularly, removing toxins and cleaning the tissue. After a mastectomy that includes removal of the lymph nodes under the arm (for example), the system isn’t as efficient, and lymph can collect anywhere in the arm, swelling anywhere from the fingers to just below the shoulder. This can also happen after radiation or chemotherapy. Once it happens, it’s a chronic condition, so mastectomy patients try very hard to prevent it happening.
At my first visit to my oncologist post-surgery, I was given two pages of directions on avoiding stress or injury to my arm; either would increase my risk of developing lymphedema, which was already very high because of the large numbers of lymph nodes removed from my right armpit.
The list freaked me out.
Wearing a watch, bracelet, or other jewelry;
Rings on my fingers (presumably I can still wear bells on my toes);
Carrying a purse;
Lifting groceries, shopping bags, or my children;
Anything else that will stress my right arm or put it at risk (for even small cuts) in any way.
Cutting food with knives;
Flying in an airplane; and even
Filing – a paper cut pierces the skin too.
This totally blew my mind. I had survived 6 months of chemo, the removal of both my breasts, and now I was told that I couldn’t ever pick up my children with my right arm again? What? Why?
Well, I’ve done some reading since, and I now understand the importance. Once you develop lymphedema, you’ve got it forever, and it’s not any fun.
Since I began to observe swelling in my arm on Sunday night, I’ve been so careful. I haven’t carried so much as a load of laundry, and I’m using new gadgets for cutting apples, etc., for my children. I wrap my arm in an ace bandage every morning and elevate it when I lie down at night. I’m doing everything I can to prevent it, but it’s still starting to swell.
Last night, I put on my new lymphedema sleeve on to go to Kristen’s trunk show in Petroville, feeling very un-sexy but yet virtuous. I was doing the right thing, again, trying to help heal and prevent this thing from hurting my body. I even hid it (and my newly flat chest) under a white cami and big pink shirt and got ready for the party.
This lasted about 15 minutes, as my hand and fingers began to swell uncomfortably even before we’d picked up UrbanMama. I yanked the sleeve off and vowed to go back and get the matching glove as soon as it arrives in the store this week (it was backordered, so I have to wait). Lovely.
Back to the ace bandage.
If you see it on me around town, will you just ignore it? Please?