Buddy Check 16 — Lymphedema

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JOPLIN, Mo. — Women with breast cancer can develop some life-long side effects, even long after the cancer is gone.

Elsie Morris, Breast Cancer Survivor/Lymphedema Patient, said, “I woke up one morning and my arm felt heavy and I could tell that my fingers were a little bit swollen and I knew immediately what it was.”

Lymphedema.

“This was my one thing. Mentally, it was not a good time in my life. And, I just could not process the fact that I was going to have to live with this everyday for the rest of my life.”

Carissa Edge, Freeman Certified Lymphedema Therapist, said, “The National Cancer Institute actually released some statistics, that for women in the United States, 12.4% of women develop breast cancer at some point throughout their lives. Of those women, 5-17% who have undergone sentinel node biopsies may develop lymphedema.”

Venetta Banwart, Certified Lymphedema Therapist, said, “It varies from patient to patient, depending on how much swelling they have. It tends to be the more lymphnodes they have taken out, the more severe it is. But sometimes it just takes that one lymphnode”

Elsie has learned how to manage her swelling thanks to staff at Freeman Health System’s Lymphedema Clinic.

“We do the Standard Complete Decongestive Therapy treatment. It’s a Four Step process,” said Edge.

That includes skin and nail care, manual lymphatic drainage through a light massage, therapeutic exercise, and compression bandaging.

Patients also learn techniques to manage swelling on their own.

“I feel like, with my patients, the more education that they get, the better they feel about managing the swelling,” said Banwart.

For Elsie, that means daily sessions with a flexi-touch to help with that lymphatic drainage massage.

“Everyday when I get home from work, I climb into what we call the ‘Michelin Man’ suit. And I put it on, set it, and I have to wear it for at least an hour. Most days I’m in it for an hour and a half,” said Morris.

“We’re a team and we’re always here, and even if it may be your last appointment, down the road you may need us, just for a little touch up here and there on the treatment. We’re always here and we’re always going to be there for you,” said Edge.

“Using the resources that Carissa and the staff here have helped me with and obviously with my FlexiTouch, we are managing it and doing a pretty good job of it right now,” said Morris.

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