My new duds

While the physical therapy for lymphedema prevention  has greatly helped reduce the scarring from my mastectomy and the trouble I’m having with my arm, it unfortunately did not actually prevent lymphedema.  My arm swelled up shortly after my surgery, even before I started radiation.  After I’d been in radiation for a few weeks, it got worse.  Now, even my hands swell if I’m not wearing my special compression sleeve and glove.

So, every morning after I get dressed, I pull on my lymphedema sleeve and glove, zip my cardigan up over them both, and head out to the radiation therapy center.  I take the sleeve and glove off only to rest for a while in the afternoon, after I get the babies down for their naps.  Then I put them back on until the kids are down for the night, when I throw them in the washer to be ready for the next day.

The sleeve and glove don’t bother me at all, although they are warm and may become annoying in the summer.  But for now, wearing them makes my arm feel sooooooo much better, and prevents my arm and hand from swelling up, so I put on the sleeve and glove every day. 

I thought I’d mention it here because it’s getting to be summer, and so you may see me wearing wearing my new duds when I’m out and about. 

Like here.

DC Metro Mom Bloggers

The D.C. Metro Mom bloggers.  Well, those of us who were still out at 11 p.m., anyway!  (Thanks to Kimberly at Petroville for the picture)

The sleeve + glove combo is an amazing help to me as I work to keep my lymph circulating and my arm a reasonable size. 

Here’s how it works.

After a radical or modified radical mastectomy, in which one or many lymph nodes are removed, a person’s body may not be able to move their lymph (tissue fluid and associated waste products) around efficiently.  This fluid typically circulates close to the skin and is moved by muscles that contract and send it through a series of valves leading to one of the many lymph nodes in the body.  Major sets of nodes are under the arms, at the fold between leg and torso, in the neck, and just in the middle of the chest.  If the underarm nodes are missing, for example (all of my level 1 and level 2 nodes there were removed in a lump), then the lymph does not move through the system efficiently.  This may cause the tissues to swell uncomfortably and the hand and/or arm becomes difficult to use.  To prevent this, the patient must manually move the lymph around each morning, brushing gently from the hands to the armpits and then again across the chest, around the back, and down the torso, in a very specific manner, and on a regular (two to three times a day) basis.  Still, some lymph remains in the tissue, as this isn’t as efficient as the original system.  A physical therapist certified in lymphedema can help empty the system, and a custom-fitted lymphedema sleeve and glove can help keep it manageable between visits. 

The glove is made out of tightly woven threads and compresses the tissues, forcing the lymph up into the wrist.  At the wrist, the sleeve takes over.  The sleeve features a tight weave at the wrist and lessens as it widens to accomodate the elbow and upper arm; this change in compression forces the lymph up to the underarm area throughout the day.  The patient still has to empty the lymph nodes manually, but that’s easy. 

The compression sleeve + glove combo also gives the patient some needed support in the injured arm and keeps things flowing.  It’s tight and difficult to put on, but comfortable once you get used to it.

As with anything, though, the best treatment is prevention, so if you’re a new mastectomy patient, I would TOTALLY recommend seeing a good physical therapist who can help with lymphedema prevention.  More information and resources are listed here.  Feel free to add your links.

If you haven’t had a mastectomy but you read this far, I hope I didn’t bore you too much.  Maybe you learned something.  I know I did. (If I had just been able to hold my arm up a little more to put it around the wine taster who guided us at the party, then no one would have ever seen my sleeve and glove in this picture.)  Oh, wait.  What I really learned is that my friends love me anyway, and they were totally cool about it at the party.

This post is original to Toddler Planet and may not be reposted without permission.  But if you want it, ask. 


20 Responses to My new duds

  1. Ally says:

    The first one to comment! A rare honor…

    1) Love the picture! Wish I lived closer and could have been there, too. Oh, I take that back. Wish that you lived in Seattle instead;

    2) Your brain astounds me. Seriously. I love that you explained the problem and solution here for all to understand.

  2. De in D.C. says:

    Would your insurance cover the cost of another glove/sleeve so you wouldn’t have to wash them as frequently?

  3. whymommy says:

    Ally, thanks! Would love to see you at a blogger party sometime … lots to talk about!

    De, although lymphedema is now recognized as a regular side effect of breast cancer via mastectomy, insurance wouldn’t even cover this set.

    And I have excellent insurance.

  4. mo-wo says:

    crap. look at all those beautiful DC blogger babes.

    [insert jaw drop]

  5. Nancy says:

    I didn’t notice the glove and sleeve at first because all those smiles are such a great focal point.

    Nice to have so many of you in one area that can get together.

  6. I never even noticed the sleeve – I was checking out everyone’s outfits… You girls are all so put together. Someday, I’ll be put together… or not…

    I think your sleeve and glove are lovely. You gotta do what you gotta do. I just hope they aren’t too hot in the summer.

    Have a great day!

  7. ~JJ! says:

    That picture of ALL of you is gorgeous!

    You look beautiful girl…and I happen to think the glove is functional and stylish!!!


  8. Nicole says:

    I am just SO glad that it FEELS good 🙂

  9. Susan K says:

    I personally think you need to accessorize that glove – I’m thinking maybe silver sequins or something!

    You look great my dear!

  10. NoRegrets says:

    Seriously, I had to look really hard to see any glove/sleeve. Though, you could go punk and dye it bright green or something… Do they have flesh colored ones for people with different colored flesh?

  11. Becki says:

    One of my friends wears (wore?) a sleeve, and to be honest, I never much noticed it. But now I know what it’s for. Thanks for teaching me something I didn’t know I needed to learn!

  12. diva65 says:

    Never even noticed the sleeve. Too busy checking out your smile and that super cute top you had on!

  13. Katherine says:

    I’m glad the sleeve doesn’t bother you. It’s so important. My friend Pam wears her a little less these days but it is so vital. I don’t know if this would work or not, but you might try putting the sleeve in fridge during nap time. Putting it on while it’s nice and cool might be just what you need to get through the afternoon heat.

  14. hotfessional says:

    Sweetie. We’re all so proud of you, we wouldn’t care if you were wearing a potato sack, Uggs, and a Santa hat. 😉

  15. jonathan says:

    interesting post.. I learn a lot from you.. 🙂

  16. Robin says:

    It would be silly to let something on your arm get in the way of a friendship!

  17. Spacemom says:

    I have to be honest, when you posted on the mom’s night about your arm, I had to look long and hard to find what was wrong with your arm.
    I wouldn’t stress about what it looks like, ya know?

  18. Sheila says:

    I love your sweet smile in the picture and your hair is looking fab. You know? If you want to go fancy for summer, you could get someone to draw some cool tattoos on the sleeve, even do colors for different outfits.

  19. You know, I am completely unobservant! I didn’t notice your arm until I was supposed to protect you during the ring and run. And I meant to ask you about it but at the rate that were were talking on the ride home, I forgot. So thanks so much for educating me. You are awesome!!! 🙂

  20. MorningGlory says:

    I have lymphedema in one leg – I know the ‘joys’ of compression garments, and how unflattering they can be. While searching for something that didn’t make me feel like my own grandmother, I came across a website called LympheDIVAs. While they don’t have anything for me (they specialize in upper extremity garments) they have lots of stylish offerings for you. Pricey, but if you just buy one at a time …

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