Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lymphomaniac Part 2

On New Year's Eve I thought I may have developed Lymphodeama.

I carried some heavy bags just before Christmas and woke up the next day to feel like the inside of my right arm was shorter than it should be. Then, the bottom of my shoulderblade, curving round to the inside of my armpit, became exceptionally tender and slightly swollen.

A week ago, I finally got to speak to the lovely Breast Care Nurse Anne Anderson, about my concerns. She allayed my fears about lymphodeama. As there was no sign of my fingers or arm swelling it was unlikely to be that. But she did urge to keep doing my exercises and take a load of anti-inflammatory pills to try and knock it on the head. If it was still there in two weeks she advised me to come see her and the Professor.

So, I have been mainly forgetting to take the anti-inflammatories and trying to remember to stretch my arm out in various ways but the swelling and tenderness has lessened. I was hugely relieved that noone thought it was lymphodeama. And even more relieved that noone had suggested it's some sort of sign of recurrence (this thought had crossed my paranoid mind... believe me, after having cancer, you end up thinking any slight twinge could be a harbinger of doom).

I even asked her about the sleeves that many women get issued with at the first suggestion of lymphodeama. Tight surgical stockings for the arms. I'm assuming it's common in the US as I've had comments from US blogging BC friends who have urged me to try the sleeve option, plus the sleeve option is mentioned all over the Cancer Vixen graphic novel, whose author is a New Yorker.

Interestingly (for those sleeve-wearers out there) my breast care nurse suggested that recent research has shown the sleeve does not help, relieve or prevent lymphodaema as much as they had first thought. Apparently current 'best practice' for treatment is to prevent by avoiding lifting heavy weights or getting scratches or bites or anything that could cause infection on that side, and to relieve with manual lymphatic drainage delivered by a specialist masseuse.

So now it's a week since our chat and I've been decorating. All tools were downed in March when I was diagnosed, and my house is looking 'half-finished'. Yesterday I cleared out my bedroom, sanded all the woodwork down, replaced a pane of glass in the top half of the window (which meant I could remove the nasty stained perspex that had been covering it up and finally give the window a good clean), and painted the ceiling. Today I need to add another coat to the ceiling and start on the walls.

However, when I woke up this morning and stretched my arms out, my right arm was angry at me. Again, I felt that suggestion of cording, the sensation of the muscles not being long enough for the arm. I blame the sanding, and I remember now, the day before I last got this, while I thought I had sustained it by lifting heavy bags, I'd also been hand-whipping two pots of double cream to make mini pavlovas for some friends who were over for dinner.


I can't sit out silly little jobs like whipping cream or sanding down woodwork. This is me, this is everyday life, and I refuse to believe my arm cannot perform them. I suspect it's just the first time I've asked it do anything really tough since the op so it's a question of building up 'arm' fitness again so it can cope.

So, it's back to the decorating again today. And a renewed commitment to remembering to do my exercises. And if that makes it worse then we'll go see the Professor this week.

My arm will not be beaten, it will do the beating.


georgie owen said...

Thanks for update AM.
Glad my prediction was right.
I went back to my favourite gym to walk and do pump classes quickly, for my psychological well-being and 'to be back in control'. Exercise and all that great music is uplifting and takes you out of yourself.
My breast surgeon said I had lymphoedema when I pointed to the puffy, spongy area under my arm.
Spoke to a physiotherapist who had written a book on the subject.
Her comment was I couldn't have lymphoedema at all otherwise I wouldn't be able to lift the weights in the first place.
You're doing great, girl.
I recall my breast surgeon saying that people who have BC and chemotherapy usually take 18 months to find their feet again.
Before they're ready to buy a house, sell a house or make those sorts of life decisions.
I'm impressed with you .......



Dr Jude said...

For your info: they took out lots of lymphnodes in my mom's arm. She was told not to lift anything heavier than about 5 or 6 lbs. She no longer plays tennis, for example. Also, no saunas, suntanning, avoid injury (scratches, etc). Like you, they told her the sleeve wouldn't be useful, but she does take care not to overuse her right arm. She now has one of those granny shopping bags on wheels as a result ... :D.

Bette said...

So, since I last commented on the evil Lymph, I have been very lax in wearing my sleeve - when I do wear it, it does relieve any pressure on my arm and make it feel better. My arm is always sore, and intermittently swollen, as is the area next to my boob and my back.

But, as Georgie has pointed out, I think it just takes time. Feb 28th is a year since my surgery and I am hoping that by May my arm will stop being such a constant reminder of my cancerous past.

And for the record, I have been working out with my arm without the sleeve since May. I have lifted weights up to 5 pounds. I play tennis once or twice every week - usually two hours at a time. And I fully expect I will be doing push-ups again - I am working towards it. I will not get this so called "mild lymphedema" ruin my quality of life. Really, WTF?

xo bette

georgie owen said...

A note: at my 3 year checkup, I told my breast surgeon that my breast still hurt a fair bit of the time. She told me she had a group of women for whom that was ongoing.
At five years out, my breast hurts a little from time to time, but it has joined the twinge in my knee and the pain in my lower back from other injuries.
I went straight back after surgery to my gym and body pump classes. Primary reason was my gym was my outlet and had been for many years.
I had a sentinel node biopsy: only one node removed: an important point.
Message: get back to as much of your old life as possible but be sensible, more than anything.
It takes time in the best of conditions.
Keep up as much exercise as you can: walking is fine.
Try to do it every day as it will help.
If exercise isn't where you're at, try to find an outlet: somewhere to physically or mentally 'escape'.
Everyone needs that.



When I was diagnosed, I used to drink white wine to an extent.
Aften I was diagnosed, I lay on a couch at a neighbour's after work in a state of shock and basically drank four glasses a night. Message : cut yourself lots of slack and be conscious of seeking help.
Look and continue to look until you find someone you feel comfortable with.
It's an enormously difficult and stressful time.

Anne-Marie Weeden said...

White wine is medicinal. It says so on the bottle. If you drink enough of it (and believe me, on some occasions, I've definitely done that).

Weirdly, I had just about kicked smoking on the head when I was first diagnosed, but the day I heard the news, I bought a pack of Marlboro Lights and a bottle of white wine.

But sometimes, when really shit or weird stuff is going on, I just don't seem to get drunk. I've found this before, when I've been really nervous in social or professional situations. I can down glasses and glasses of wine or champagne and they just don't seem to have any effect. I think it's the adrenalin.

So I got not-drunk the night of diagnosis. And despite lapsing momentarily, the smoking was knocked on the head again relatively quickly.

But the drinking I need to watch is not the rip roaring drunkenness, it's the almost unnoticeable 'just one glass with dinner' type that suddenly turns into 3 bottles a week before you're even counting. Then you need to add in the drinks you have when you actually choose to go out and 'have a drink'. The curse of the professional classes, if you believe our national press...

But when the moment calls for it, you still cannot beat splitting a bottle of cold wine with a friend. So cold it has little droplets of condensation on it. Now, that's worth back-sliding for...