Lymphedema and Self Care



“Cancer is something you can get over; lymphedema is with you for the rest of your life!” This is something I would hear often when I worked with cancer patients at a durable medical supply store. There is an attitude and a hopelessness that sometimes goes along with lymphedema. However, there are ways to combat this feeling and this attitude. Don’t allow lymphedema to define you and your life. Get back up, keep going – for you are stronger than you know! Lymphedema does benefit from self care.

lymphedema/depressionLYMPHEDEMA AND DEPRESSION

While researching lymphedema and depression, I came across a study done from 2003- 2009 about “The Psycho-Social Impact of Lymphedema”. In this article, they discussed the many psycho-social problems that patients with lymphedema experience. Among these are the lack of treatment resources and the lack of lymphedema research. Anger that the healthcare professionals seemingly either do not care or fail to understand the seriousness of their problems. Lack of insurance coverage for treatment and supplies. Financial difficulties, work problems and quality of life concerns are all themes included in the psycho-social impact of lymphedema.

Women with lymphedema specifically had symptoms of loss of confidence in the body, decreased physical activity, fatigue and psychological distress. There is also a perception of a lack of control when dealing with this illness. “My insurance doesn’t pay.” “It’s too expensive.” “Everything is harder to do.” They give up on hobbies and activities with friends and family members, which leaves them feeling isolated and alone.


The study found that self care improved both the physical and emotional health of those dealing with lymphedema. Self care gave these people a feeling of control over their life and over their disease. Successful long-term management of lymphedema is a daily practice, and it takes discipline. However it proves well worth the effort.

Lymphedema is a chronic and a progressive disease, but in most cases it can be managed with treatment. For the majority of patients this can be achieved by complete decongestive therapy (CDT). CDT is a safe, reliable and non-invasive treatment. Specially-trained therapists perform CDT which consists of four components. The four components are: manual lymph drainage (MLD), graduated compression garments or bandaging, skin care and therapeutic exercises.


Manual lymph drainage is necessary to manage fluid volume of the affected extremity to a normal or near normal size. Bandages are used in phase one and compression garments in phase two.

gradient compression stockingsGRADUATED COMPRESSION GARMENTS

Graduated compression garments are necessary to maintain the reduced limb and are designed to replace the bandages that were used earlier in treatment. Wear compression stockings during the day while you are active. At night when you sleep, bandages or night garments are usually worn. The compression garments help to keep the swelling down, improve circulation and prevent the re-accumulation of lymph fluid in the area. The garments should be worn every day.


With lymphedema, the skin is usually dry and may crack easily, making it very susceptible to infections. A low-pH lotion free of alcohol and fragrances should be used to maintain the moisture of the skin and to protect it. If an infection develops, consults your physician immediately.


A skilled therapist may recommend an exercise program that is suited for your particular need and ability. An effective decongestive exercise program aids the muscular system to move lymph fluid out of the affected area. Any exercise that causes pain or muscle soreness should be discussed with a therapist. Walking, riding a bike, swimming or practicing yoga are all good, moderate exercises. Avoid overly aggressive sports that may lead to injuries. Consult your physician before beginning any program.


Alexa Ercolano stated in an article she wrote about her own lymphedema: “When I got my mental andlymphedema/ loving your limb emotional health on track, my physical health soon followed. Instead of resenting my leg, I recognized that it just needs a little extra help sometimes, kind of like I do. Once I reached that place of acceptance I became more forgiving and understanding of my body and willing to take care of it.”

She goes on to explain how she began treating her leg with love. Paint your toenails, put lotion on your legs, treat yourself to some patterned, fun stockings, love your legs. Alexa also stated that finding an activity she really loved helped to keep her anchored and mentally and emotionally healthy. What brings you joy? What can you do to feed your soul and nourish your health? A walk in the woods, sketching, writing, knitting – “What brings you joy? Do more of that!” Don’t treat this as a luxury. Treat this as part of your healthcare.

Lymphedema/finding your joyLYMPHIE COMMUNITY

Sometimes the best thing you can do is reach out and talk to someone about your lymphedema. You are not alone! Ten million Americans and hundreds of millions worldwide suffer from lymphedema.

There are many support groups on social media. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are just a few places to start. Jobst, a major manufacturer of compression garments, also has a support group called LymphCare, which was developed to provide lymphedema patients a comprehensive tool to help manage their life with lymphedema. Reach out, share your story, learn about others and how they’ve managed their disease and what works for them.


We all have challenges to face. Keeping the faith and staying positive through these challenges makes them easier to deal with. One day at a time, for today certainly has enough problems of its own. We cannot always change our circumstances, but we can change our attitude towards the circumstances. We do have a choice. Please don’t give up, take good care of you. We all fall. It’s the ones who get back up that with the day. Don’t allow lymphedema to define you or your life. There is so much more to you than your disease! You are so much stronger than you know!

lymphedema/stronger together

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