One potential side effect of having lymph nodes removed is a condition known as lymphedema. It can effect anywhere from 10-20% of patients. Radiation treatments increase the risk of lymphedema. I'm not sure, so don't cite me, but either up to 40% of patients get it or the risk of getting it is increased by 40% or something like that...the number 40 is involved.
One of the side effects of certain chemotherapy treatments is also lymphedema.
There doesn't seem to be consensus as to what determines a true diagnosis of lymphedema....2 cm difference in circumference between the limbs? 4 cm? 2 inches?
My left arm, the one that had lymph nodes removed, is today 3-4 cm larger than my right. This is sucky news. Here I sit with my arm wrapped in compression bandages, padding, a special cotton sleeve thingie like one would put under a cast....
I was expecting to get a compression sleeve, standard fare given to breast cancer patients. I even knew what color I wanted. I'd researched some super cool ones on line and found a distributor in Findlay.
The OT I saw today, supposedly one of the best in the area, thinks my swelling is probably caused by my chemo and should go away, but that in all likelihood it will first get worse, so no compression sleeve for me. Instead, I get these cool bandages that make me look like a burn victim or injury patient.
She also gave me some lymph draining massage techniques and exercises to do....daily, several times, for the rest of my life.
And that's the kicker. Cancer never quits. Like so many chronic conditions, it's a "for the rest of your life" thing.
For the rest of my life, I have to be concerned with injury to my left arm and hand. I have to be concerned about mosquito bites for god's sake. Even a paper cut could be problematic. This is all sort of just hitting me now. I'm supposed to carry band aids and antibiotic ointment with me in case I nick a cuticle or get a paper cut. Some therapists even recommend avoiding hot showers, hot baths, the sun (because it is warming)....I love the warmth of the sun. I detest cold. I meditate in my bath. I doubt I will ever be good enough at meditating to do it in a cool bath. Hell no, not an option. I don't do cool baths. I'd rather not bathe. I'd rather not shower.
This is all rather depressing. Highly depressing. The most depressed I've been since finding out I had to do extra chemo. Don't want to get out of bed depressing. Want to eat Pringles and Lawson's Chip Dip depressing.
Hopefully the OT is right and the swelling will resolve itself when I'm finished with chemo because I'm pissed again.