Lymphedema and Self Care



“Cancer is something you can get over; lymphedema is with you for the rest of your life!” I often heard this working with cancer patients at a durable medical supply store. There is an attitude and 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, and keep going – you are stronger than you know! Lymphedema, like all chronic illnesses, will 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 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, leaving them isolated and alone.


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

Lymphedema is a chronic and progressive disease, but in most cases, it can be managed with treatment. For most 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 the fluid volume of the affected extremity to a standard or near-normal size. Bandages are used in phase one, and compression garments in phase two. Finding a qualified lymphedema therapist to guide you through this process is important.

gradient compression stockingsGRADUATED COMPRESSION GARMENTS

Graduated compression garments are necessary to maintain the reduced limb and are designed to replace the bandages 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 keep the swelling down, improve circulation, and prevent the re-accumulation of lymph fluid. 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 and protect the skin’s moisture. If an infection develops, consults your physician immediately.


A skilled therapist may recommend an exercise program suited to your needs and abilities. An effective decongestive exercise program aids the muscular system in moving lymph fluid out of the affected area. Any exercise that causes pain or muscle soreness should be discussed with a therapist. Walking, bike riding, 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 about her 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 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, and love your legs. Alexa also stated that finding an activity she 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 significant manufacturer of compression garments, also has a support group called LymphCare, developed to provide patients with a comprehensive tool to help manage their life with lymphedema. Please share your story, and learn about others, how they’ve managed their disease, and what works for them.


We all have challenges to face. Keeping 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 toward events. We do have a choice. Please don’t give up; take good care of yourself. We all fall. It’s the ones who get back up that win 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!

Stronger together

Disclaimer – This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, the information in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice – always consult a licensed healthcare professional

for advice on your specific condition.

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