Lymphedema is abnormal swelling caused by a lymphatic system that doesn't work properly. Whether you're born with it or something causes it, this is a chronic condition patients must learn to manage. In March's Health Check report, there's life on the other side of the diagnosis.
Merci Mathews had been through enough. The 64-year-old made it through two breast cancer surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. Her doctor diagnosed her with Lymphedema almost three years ago.
A compression sleeve and glove are now part of her wardrobe. "When I go on a plane, the barometric pressure, you have to wear the compression because it can be serious, but other than that, well being left-handed it kinda makes a difference and I am left-handed, but I'm getting through it."
The abnormal swelling is a chronic condition. The key is to learn how to manage it. A certified Lymphedema therapist stimulates Mathews' lymphatic system so it will drain and reduce swelling in the arm. Alegent Health occupational therapist Sabrina Ward helps patients with massage, compression garments and a special class Alegent offers.
Ward knows most patients have even more limitations. "Some patients are very affected by their Lymphedema. They can't do a lot of walking, they can't do a lot of lifting, they have really high risks of infection and it just affects everyone differently depending on how much damage is done to the lymphatic system."
That's where a class comes in. "Go ahead and reach for the stars,” says the instructor.
Healthy Steps at Alegent's Midlands Hospital uses the Lebed Method to work on range of motion, endurance, and balance. Exercise also helps pump fluid out of the body, allowing Matthews to reduce swelling and manage her condition.
"We do exercise, motion, breathing, it's a fun class really and it helps,” says Matthews, who takes the class once a week and says it really makes a difference. She has the right attitude and she's already proven she's a survivor.