Having sat in many breast cancer support groups with women who's arms were enveloped in skin or multi-colored sleeves, I feared the beast continuing to afflict me after treatment. So far, I've escaped any symptoms of lymphedema as a result of the six lymph nodes removed from my right arm, but since lymphedema can occur immediately, or months to years after surgery, I have yet to escape this fear. Why lymphedema after breast cancer treatment?
Lymphedema, a build up of lymph fluid in the body's tissues, may occur post-chemotherapy or post-radiation. Lymph nodes are often removed from the underarm on the side diagnosed with breast cancer which, in turn, can compromise the flow of lymph fluid through the nodes and vessels. Over time, the natural flow of lymph fluid can overwhelm the damaged site, resulting in a back up of fluid. Most often, this causes swelling in the arm and hand, but the swelling can at times extend to the chest, trunk and/or back. It is often treatable and managed with massage, physical therapy and a sleeve.
The precautions I was given post-treatment were: not to have my blood pressure taken or receive shots or IVs in my left arm, not to lift anything heavier than 5-10 pounds for a couple of months, and to wear a sleeve with gauntlet when flying. I've taken these precautions, but when I took a 3 hour flight, the sleeve and gauntlet hadn't arrived at the medical supply shop, and it turns out I was fine.
Detailed information on lymphedema: signs & symptoms, risk factors, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and therapists can be found at Breastcancer.org, American Cancer Society, and National Lymphedema Network. For gorgeous, custom fit sleeves, visit LympheDIVAs!