Lymphedema is a painful condition that can affect women who have undergone, or are undergoing, breast cancer treatment that, unfortunately, many women are never properly educated on.
Those who suffer from lymphedema, which is a lack of lymphatic drainage, experience severe swelling in their arms or other extremities. Sometimes it can be so bad that it leads to disfigurement.“I noticed my left arm was swollen and it felt heavy, but I didn’t know it was lymphedema,” said Peggy Mercurio, a breast cancer survivor. “I also had lymphedema in my chest wall and in my back. For me, it is more bothersome but not necessarily painful. It just feels very uncomfortable.”
On Thursday, Oct. 15, the public is invited to learn about treating this condition, which is not exclusive to breast cancer survivors, during a “Focus on Lymphedema” educational night from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel on the Health Science Campus of The University of Toledo.
The free, public lecture is part of the Tie One On Awareness Lecture Series hosted by the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center.
Dr. Iman Mohamed, UT professor and chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology, will be one of the guest speakers talking about the causes, preventative methods and treatment for lymphedema. Lymphedema therapists from UTMC as well as ProMedica, Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, Blanchard Valley Rehab and Wood County Hospital will be among the experts offering advice and support.
“Any patient with lymphedema can benefit from this lecture, but it is especially crucial to talk about lymphedema during October because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Mohamed said. “Anytime you remove or disturb a lymph node, you have the chance to suffer from lymphedema. It can happen immediately or it might take years.”
Those at risk for developing lymphedema are advised to keep the affected arm or leg elevated above the level of the heart when possible; avoid tight clothing; forgo the use of a heavy purse on the affected arm; do not use hot tubs or heating pads; and avoid heavy lifting with the affected limb.
However, sometimes lymphedema will occur anyway, and patients need options for relief. Mohamed said elastic sleeves, bandages, manual compression and exercises can help.
Mercurio uses a compression sleeve and massages to ease her discomfort.
“It is very important for people to know about lymphedema,” Mercurio said. “I put off the swelling. It would have been great to know that it wasn’t just weight gain.”
Kelly Farley, UTMC lymphedema therapist, said sometimes people just live with the condition, which is unfortunate because relief is possible. Other people aren’t educated about the possibility of the condition and, therefore, do not follow any of the precautionary measures to avoid getting lymphedema.
“Lymphedema is not curable; it is a chronic disease,” Farley said. “Patients must be committed to long-term self-care to achieve positive outcomes. Through the course of the treatment, patients are taught components that are necessary to manage the lymphedema.”
Registrations can be made by calling Renee’s Survivor Shop at 419.383.5243 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration starts at 5:30 p.m.