|My right hand has lymphedema. You can see the swelling.|
|Me, wearing the pump. aka the Brown Beast|
So you may be wondering about the brown torture-looking device I have on. Well, this is one of the treatments for the newest gift of breast cancer---lymphedema. When you have surgery for breast cancer, either lumpectomy or mastectomy, the removal of lymph nodes for testing is a given. However, once you have lymph nodes removed you are forever at risk for developing lymphedema. It is a chronic condition that does not go away, it is only managed. The big bummer is that no one can predict if they will get lymphedema. Some women have 30+ nodes removed and never get it and super lucky ones who only have 2-3 nodes removed do get it. Woohoo! I'm the lucky one again! You may be wondering, what exactly is lymphedema? At the end of the post I shared some links and a video for your viewing pleasure.
After the removal of the nodes, you are told to protect your affected arm at all costs. NO blood pressure. NO flu shot. NO blood draws. NO insect bites. NO sunburn. NO extreme temperature changes. NO trauma. You get the picture. By the way, if you Google images of lymphedema, be prepared. It is not a pretty site if you let it go too far. Hence, my tenacity at finding an answer to my pain.
Little did I know that carrying a DRA kit out of a campus door would lead to this frustrating condition. I scraped my hand along a door of the building and gave myself a deep bruise. That bruise was just below my index and middle fingers on my right hand. Guess which two fingers swell the most? At the time, I had no idea that one bruise would lead to all this. This was right before Christmas and I couldn't figure out why I was hurting so bad. I had no explanation and never suspected lymphedema. I didn't think that lymphedema hurt.
My unexplained traveled from my hand, up my arm, and into my armpit area. My oncologist ruled out a blood clot. But still not having an answer for the pain, I saw yet another doctor. This one said it was tendonitis and gave me a shot in the wrist. (Remeber, I'm not supposed to have shots in this arm...) He also put me in a brace which I wore for about a month with no relief. Finally, after seeing my oncologist again, he referred me to physical therapy for lymphedema. Maybe this was the answer! Frankly, I needed an answer. I was beyond frustrated at not having an answer for my pain.
I met with an OT and PT who both specialize in lymphedema. These ladies have helped so much and I DO have an answer to my pain. They have helped me learn and educate myself about my lymphatic system and helped me get the Brown Beast, a lymphatic therapy pump which mimics the manual drainage massage of the therapist. The next step is to get the swelling down in my hand so we can have a custom garment made for my hand and arm. I am thinking I may need one that looks like a robot arm. ;) It is a work in progress and a condition I will have to deal with forever. That is the crappy part. So just when you think you are done with cancer...BAM! another fun surprise from the gift that keeps on giving.
Here are some links if you want to know more about lymphedema.