Sorry Gulch, Arizona, by Eric Talerico

Thursday, July 30, 2009


I said I would do better with this blog; yet, it's been a month since my last entry. I think it's because I don't want to dwell on breast cancer. I want to move away from it. I don't want breast cancer to define me.

However, I started this blog to pass on what I'm learning and possibly help others. That is what does define me. I'm certain not many read this blog, but if it helps one single person, either directly or because a friend of relative saw it, then it's worth my effort.

After the surgery, after the chemo, after the radiation, there is something else that might occur in 14% of us. Lymphedema happens when many axillary lymph nodes are removed during surgery, and the remaining ones are destroyed in radiation. They removed 18 lymph nodes from my left arm-pit. One was found to have metastisized cancer cells. That meant I needed heavy radiation in the axillary and radiation concentration on the left clavicle.

The edema, or swelling, that occurs in some of us is because there are not enough lymph glands to carry lymph fluids away to the blood system in a specified area. It's the arm on the operated side that swells, also the breast and chest wall. This swelling may happen weeks after surgery, or not until several months later, or even several years. There are those who say lymphedema is worse than the cancer that precipitated it. The cancer is cut, poisoned, and burnt out. One can become free of it. Lymphedema is not curable. If it is not controlled, it becomes worse.

OK. So, that's what they say. We love such drama! I've Googled Images of lymphodema. Pretty scary.

My left breast, chest wall, and left arm were painfully swollen within one month of the end of radiation therapy, and lymphedema diagnosed.

When it happens, it needs to be controlled. Controlled - it will not get worse - and might eventually go away (evidence of this not proven, but I believe it). I'm taking active measures to make it go away. I wear a compression sleeve from finger-tips to shoulder from morning to evening every day. It's a bitch to get on, and such a great relief to take off in the evening that my "bed time" is rather early. I also have manual lymph-drainage massage once a week. (More about that later.) I take great, great care that I receive no needle stick, no blood pressure measurement, or any minor injury to my left arm hand fingers. No activity, such as heavy lifting, being bumped. It's surprising how alert I've become even shopping.

For awhile I was depressed about this - but I have discovered new approaches, new thinking. I'll write about these, and give links, within the next few days.