My Story: Nancy Dallman, Insight, Fall 2014
Published in the Fall 2014 issue of LBBC's national newsletter, Insight
On July 17, 2013, I had a bilateral mastectomy with 6 out of 11 lymph nodes affected. A couple weeks after my surgery, I showed my doctor swelling under my right arm where the lymph nodes were removed. It really bothered and worried me.
My surgeon had never mentioned lymphedema to me prior to the surgery. I really like her and completely trusted her; I think she didn’t tell me about lymphedema early on so that I had one less thing to worry about. At the time I didn’t even understand what a lymph system did, although I knew it was bad if the cancer traveled there.
Lymphedema is swelling caused by lymph fluid building up in certain areas. After breast cancer treatment, it can happen in the hand, arm, breast or torso. Lymphedema varies from person to person, but once it appears, it is usually permanent.
My surgeon referred me to an occupational therapist who is a lymphedema specialist. I was told I had developed stage 1 lymphedema. I felt relieved after just the first appointment, which involved measuring my arm and checking my range of motion.
My OT therapist taught me how to do manual lymph drainage, a light massage that moves lymph fluid away from swollen areas, at home. Then, during my 6 months of chemotherapy, I saw her once a week to keep putting things in my lymphedema “tool box.” She slowly told me things I’d have to do, like wearing a compression camisole and a compression sleeve, and what to be careful of, like sitting for long periods during travel and lifting only light-weight objects with my affected arm.
I struggled with the lymphedema diagnosis and was angry that I had it. I hated wearing the compression camisole and sleeve, even though it was winter so most people didn’t see it. It took me several months to accept that while I didn’t plan on having cancer the rest of my life, I was going to have lymphedema the rest of my life. I felt alone because no one I talked to really knew what it was.
That was when I decided that I could help people by educating them, even if it was just family, friends and co-workers. I could try to make something positive out of this experience and not let lymphedema control my life. I really like the sleeves from LympheDIVAS, which look like tattoos and tend to draw attention and questions. I am fortunate to be able to purchase these sleeves.
There are limitations with lymphedema, and living with it is trial and error. I’ve been advised to take it slow with things such as lifting weights to gain strength.
I now volunteer with Imerman Angels with the hope that I can help others through their breast cancer and lymphedema journey. I am also involved in some Facebook groups. It helps to see the stories of others and also to give encouragement. I think that is a lot of what helps keep me going and from feeling down. I hope anyone concerned they might have lymphedema talks to their doctor and seeks help before it gets worse.