Today we are trying a new treatment option for my lymphedema: a "chip bag."
My physical therapist (PT) measured my hand and arm at 5 centimeter intervals. The hand is looking better, although not measuring smaller. There isn't any significant increased swelling in the arm, but there is some on the pinky side of my lower arm. My upper arm actually went down a bit. When we compared my measurements over the past couple months, the numbers were going up and down. Definitely not stabilized. The chemo may have something to do with that. I was glad to see that my Christmas hand flare-up has subsided.
When we went to wrap in bandages, my PT decided to make a couple of these "chip bags." It is basically small pieces of cut up foam that we put into mesh fabric (the same fabric that is my base protective layer). Then we wrapped the bag on my lower arm. Because my hand was doing better, we decided to just bandage it without any foam or chip bag. It will dimple my arm a bit, but hopefully break up the fluid and help it move.
As she was bandaging, my PT confirmed the conclusion that I had come to. That this process if one of me learning how to read the signs and determine what it is my body needs to be treated with, and then be able to do it myself. It is important to change it up, she said. Lymphedema can adapt to the same wrap and methods. So using a chip bag once in awhile, or foam another day, or if things look good, just the compression sleeve will be helpful. She even said I could use a soft natural hair brush to use on my arm instead of my hands for the self-massage. Just as an option to change things up a little and keep this disease on its toes. That is in addition to staying well hydrated, having extra special skin care/moisturizer, and avoiding cuts/scrapes/burns on that arm and hand.
I'm in learning mode. I've ordered several books from Amazon about lymphedema. My PT gave me a couple photocopies from her medical book with diagrams of the lymphatic system. I was pleased to find out that there are some lymph nodes on the inside of the elbow. Knowing that, I can direct the massage to that area from my hand/wrist area. The human body has between 500-700 lymph nodes. It's wild that just taking out 15 of them can wreak so much havoc.
It can be depressing as I realize that I have a chronic, non-curable disease. (At least by human standards.) That is how lymphedema is described. It can be managed, but not cured. Great. I'm coming to terms with it, but still have some emotional swings. So that is an area of prayer if anyone is wondering my prayer needs. I need to stay positive and embrace the good things in life. Not get bogged down in the heaviness of daily wrapping and other concerns that go along with lymphedema.
The next several weeks during radiation are going to be critical. The radiation oncologist wants to treat my lymph node area, so there is a very good chance my arm will want to swell. It's going to take a lot of care and babying of this arm and hand to try and manage it during this time and as my body heals from the radiation.
About this blog
I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.