One of the unfortunate side effects of having lymph nodes removed from your body is the swelling that can occur. It's called lymphedema. I never realized how important lymph fluid is to the body, but since I'm now light 26 lymph nodes, I now see how valuable those little suckers were. My left wrist and hand have begun to swell, and there are things I am going to have to do if I don't want to see my arm blow up to the size of a tree trunk.
I had my first ever visit with a physical therapist yesterday, and she told me that lymphedema is almost unavoidable for women who have had lymph nodes removed as part of breast cancer surgery. One other thing she told me, which my radiation oncologist failed to mention, is that lymphedema can worsen after radiation treatment. When I visited with him last week, he seemed very concerned about the evidence of swelling, but said nothing about the possibility of it worsening. You just can't seem to get off scot-free with cancer; it infiltrates your body and still manages to surprise you even after you think you're done with it. I thought since I showed no evidence of swelling until about a week ago, I was going to be one of the lucky ones. Guess not.
My physical therapist, who is originally from the east coast, like me (funny how many transplanted east-coasters I've met), told me not to panic. She gave me some information about how to perform lymphatic drainage massage on myself - yes, lymphatic drainage massage actually works; it's not just a bullshit treatment you pay hundreds of dollars for at a fancy spa - and told me to order a specific type of arm bandage, which I will have to wear every day, for 23 hours at a time. I'm not at the "compression garment" phase of treatment, yet. I may or may not need a compression sleeve for my arm after I complete radiation.
I am trying to stay positive about this latest side effect, since it certainly beats the alternative. I don't, however, want to spend the rest of my life with an outsized limb, as I mentioned above. I was shown pictures of what lymphedema can look like and it's not pretty. What's even less attractive is the fact that many insurance companies fail to cover the supplies like bandages and compression garments needed by patients to treat the condition.
So, I now have one more hurdle to jump in this journey. Let's hope I manage to clear it.