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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Life as I know it

I've been dealing with something over the past several days that I realized today illustrates how life is with the incurable and chronic condition of lymphedema.

Fortunately for me, right now it is under control.  But because I have had flare ups in the past, I continue to keep a very close eye on the size of my hand and arm.  I do manual lymphatic drainage most nights, sleep in 5 layers of bandages around my arm, and wear a compression sleeve and gauntlet when I work out.  I also measure my hand and arm at 5 c.m. intervals from time to time to make sure there isn't any swelling that is creeping up on me.

I have to be very careful about trauma to the left arm and hand. Anything could trigger swelling: sunburn; insect bite; cut; high altitude; heat; and burns. You don't realize how much your lymphatic system works all the time to heal your body of the little insults that attack it daily.

Anyway, it was the latter that had the potential to get me recently.  I was in the kitchen cooking up a squash casserole. I wasn't very careful when I was sliding it into the oven and ended up burning my left hand.  I put it under some water right away and treated it with aloe vera. The burn is about 1 inch long.  It didn't really bother me that much at the time-I was busy trying to get dinner on the table.

I realized I could have a problem started when I unwrapped my arm the next morning.  The first layer of bandaging stuck a bit to the scab and pulled it off a little. That hurt, but I told myself to be more careful next time.  After my workout that day, the wound had oozed onto the gauntlet I wear on my hand. Gross, but its washable.  I decided to start wearing a band-aid in between the wound and the gauntlet.

During the day, the wound would look like it was getting better. But after a night under the bandages and band aid, it would be all moist and oozy again. This had been going on for nearly a week.

Two days ago, I had Eric help me measure my arm to see if there was any swelling.  One measurement (10 c.m. from the wrist) was borderline, but not that far different from the last time we had measured it. So it didn't seem like the burn was triggering any swelling. Thank you, Jesus!

My latest approach is to just go bare for a few days until it is healed up.  Last night, I didn't wrap it in the bandage.  I'll confess that I was really tired last night and didn't even do my manual drainage before turning out the lights!  This morning, I went for a training walk and didn't wear the compression sleeve. About half way through, I bent my arm up to keep my hand above my heart and reduce any walking-related swelling.

The bottom line is that I think that the wound is now finally starting to heal.  Keeping it wrapped up was like taking one step forward and two steps backward.  Hopefully a couple days of this will heal the wound without letting the arm swell.  I'll keep any eye on it and definitely will be doing the manual massage tonight.

I realized on my walk that this situation is now a part of my life.  It isn't going away like the cancer went away.  It is a balancing act.  Stay active and live life.  But don't injure the arm.  If I do, then I have to try different approaches (or a combination of them), to keep the arm from swelling. It's not life threatening for me, but it does add a slight burden to day to day living.

I just thought I'd share this aspect of live post-breast cancer as I know it. As always, I appreciate your prayers that this lymphedema stay under control. This is my first summer season with it, and with our upcoming travel and the heat, it could easily swell up.


  1. Tonya,
    I've only had brief run-ins w/lymphedema and am a stickler for wearing my sleeve when I workout, garden or fly and wear it afterwards for the same amount of time. So far, so good, but I know that's not guaranteed. I know women who've encountered a problem 20 years down the road. Scary!

    A couple of weeks ago, I was stung twice on my at risk arm by a scorpion as I slept. 4:37am to be exact. I found him and cut him in two w/cuticle clippers next to my bed. I feared my arm would swell, but it did not. My tongue and lips went numb and my right foot was completely numb and gave out when I walked. This lasted for nearly 24 hours. I've been stung a lot and have never reacted like that. The doctor said the scorpion's neurotoxins were causing it and agreed that my radical symptoms might have been a result of not having as many lymph nodes in that arm to filter out the toxins. Either way, I feel like I dodged a bullet on that one.


  2. Tonya,
    Thank you for this post that reminds us once again that cancer never really leaves once it's become an unwelcome and uninvited 'guest.' I'm sorry you have to be so diligent and admire the way you look at it. I continue to have arm 'troubles' and no one really knows what's up yet. I now have my sleeve and really watch for swelling too. So far so good. I still have pain and limited range of motion, so the saga continues with more apts next week. Ugh. Good luck when you travel. Thank goodness for air conditioning!

  3. Hi Tonya,

    My name is Liz and I have been following your blog for a while now. First, let me say that I am so happy for you that you are taking back your life and taking the opportunity to live it up. Second, its truly lovely that your kids can spend some time with you, the picture of you guys is really sweet.

    That said, since your blog is a great resource for someone going through cancer I wanted to reach out to you to see if you were interested in a new online social support network (that I am the community manager of!) called I Had Cancer. It is a new and free social support network focused on connecting people based on experiences with cancer so that they can easily communicate with one another and share information. I would love to tell you more if you are interested, so please let me know! Because I was so struck by your writing I would love to send you an early-access pass with extra invites for others you may know going through this journey.

    Either way, thank you so much for your writing. Take care and best regards.
    If anyone would like information about I Had Cancer please let me know.