Thursday, March 8, 2012

Me and My Lymphedema

Maybe you've noticed the black glove I'm almost always wearing in my outfit posts: 
No, I haven't gone all Karl Lagerfeld or Madonna on you... 
I have to wear it because I have Lymphedema. 

Lymphedema is a "lovely parting gift" from my war with breast cancer. I won against the cancer, and have a few battle scars from the process. The lymphedema is the worst of them IMHO because its result is in my face, all the time I'm awake, there on my right hand that used to sport seven rings.
I painted this 7/4/11
What IS Lymphedema?
A medical description from the National Lymphedema Network: Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue that causes swelling. In lay terms: Lymph is waste fluid that is normally processed by lymph nodes, located all over your body. All my underarm lymph nodes were removed during my mastectomy. That means I've got a bunch of fluid creeping down my arm and pooling in my arm and hand. It got so bad last April that I couldn't even grip a pencil (and I had to get about 4 drawings done for an art show! I was seriously freaking out). Special bonus: it's chronic, so I have it for life.

I finally got some treatment last August at Cedars Sinai (It took so long because I don't have health insurance and am part of the state BCCTP Medi-Cal program). Normal treatment is a six-week process of therapy, bandaging, and massage. I got the 10-appointments-over3-week funded version, which was fine. I learned how to wrap myself like a mummy and do self-massage to push to lymph to other places.

ARGH! Mummy hand!
I also wear a lymphedema sleeve and glove to keep the fluid from pooling in my hands
Here I am last July in my leopard sleeve.
Later on that night a dude thought it was a real tattoo!
Wearing my new "dragon tattoo" sleeve,
feeling very badass
(plus new INPINK* necklace!)
I get the cool sleeves from Lymphedivas. They have a fantastic array of prints. They help make this repulsive condition a bit easier on the eye. But I still look down at my arm and it looks like Tina Fey's Bossypants man arms:

A book that I found very helpful for this condition is Lymphedema: A Breast Cancer Patient's Guide to Prevention and Healing. If you've had any lymph node removal, I HIGHLY SUGGEST that you get this book and take every precautionary step to prevent lymphedema. Not everyone gets it (mine didn't appear until 10 months after surgery, 5 months after chemo and 3 months after radiation) - believe me, you want to avoid it if you can.

* the INPINK necklace was a TxSC freebie