Yesterday I went for a physical therapy consultation. My therapist specializes in lymphedema which is a swelling of the arm that results from the removal of lymph nodes during a lumpectomy. I had four lymph nodes removed so I am risk for this condition. It can be a mild swelling or it can be quite obvious. It is usually permanent so therapists try to address the condition before it happens. There is no real prevention for it but awareness is still important. And radiation therapy can contribute to the swelling because it damages the effectiveness of the lymph nodes — which work to drain fluid from the body. When some are missing and others are damaged, fluid can build up and cause swelling.
I have a low risk of getting lymphedema — four missing lymph nodes is not so bad — but I will still be monitored. So yesterday I had my arm measured. My affected arm (left) was a tiny bit larger than my right arm but this is not significant right now. I was given some exercises to do at home to maintain good range of motion — I feel some tightening in my armpit — and I need to purchase a compression sleeve to wear on my arm if I experience swelling or if I ever fly on a plane. It is not recommended that I lift more than 15 pounds with my left arm (Danny weighs 30+) and I cannot ever have my blood pressure checked on this arm — or have a needle stick or any other procedure that could affect the flow of blood and fluids.
I will go back to physical therapy in two weeks and will be monitored throughout radiation — which is 1/3 of the way done now.
I just completed my 10th radiation session and have 23 to go. It is making me very tired but I have not experienced any skin irritation yet. I am prepared for something to happen in the next week or so. I am applying aloe vera gel and calendula (an ointment made from a flower) to treat my skin. When the burning occurs (which is expected), these will soothe my skin. I was told not to wear a bra throughout the whole radiation phase — or to at least wear something that is not tight or restricting on the skin that is being treated. Today I am wearing a bikini top because I have not found anything else that works. Since I can tie the string that goes around my back, I am able to adjust the tightness and pull it low enough that it doesn’t touch my affected skin. I tried jog bras and tight camisole shirts and wearing nothing at all. I am not comfortable without any support so I hope the bikini works out.
So now I am struggling to find the best bra and the best support — exactly what I was doing up until 1996 when I had a reduction surgery. And I thought then I was forever free of this problem. You never can tell what lies ahead.