“What have you done to your arm?”
No, I haven’t injured myself in some cool activity, or suffered from burns from standing too close to the bbq. Simply put, I am prone to Lymphedema.
Most of you would be forgiven for thinking that once you’ve finished your surgery, chemo and radiation, that you are healed. It’s all over, and there’s nothing left to worry about. But unfortunately there’s quite a few ongoing side effects cause by the treatment. Hey, I’m not complaining … I kicked cancer’s ass!
So class in session, lets learn a little about Lymphedema. I’ll start from the beginning, and I’ll try not to be too technical.
What are Lymph Nodes?
We all have them throughout our body. They’re like our own little filters, sifting out all the nasties before they can do any damage. In the case of Breast Cancer, the ones under the arm often find they are on the front line to try to fight the disease. Unfortunately, many don’t survive and need to be removed during surgery. In my case I have 14 infected lymph nodes removed from my right arm pit. (Not a nice surgery at all.)
What happens when they’re missing?
Without the lymph nodes in my right armpit, the next nodes (on the side of the neck) are given the additional task of looking after any nasties that traverse up the right arm. But the neck lymph nodes are already working pretty hard, and there will be situations where they just can’t cope. Sometimes it might be a mozzie bite, or a simple scratch on the arm while playing in the garden. But one of the big situations is excessive heat when I’m sitting in a hot race car clothed in a thick fireproof race suit. Another is when I’m in a pressured aircraft.
When the lymph nodes can’t cope, the effected area will collect fluid and swell. This can be quite painful, but is usually just very uncomfortable giving my arm the a weak feeling like it’s had a huge workout at the gym.
Can I fix it?
There are massage techniques and some exercises I can do if I feel the lymph nodes are starting to struggle. I won’t go into detail, but next time if you see doing high fives to an imaginary person, you’ll now know that I’m not loosing my mind.
Can I prevent it?
YES!!! And this is where the pressure sleeve comes in. By forcing even pressure all up my hand and arm, I can prevent the swelling, and force the nasties to move to the next set of lymph nodes. So I usually wear the sleeve as a preventative measure, but will sometimes also wear it as treatment.
So know you know what the sleeve is all about, you might actually notice a few more people wearing similar sleeves.
If you would like to learn more about Lymphedema, you can find details at https:/www.lymphoedema.org.au/