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.
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.