I took off my wedding ring in a bit of a panic as I noticed my left arm swelling. That was back at the beginning of October in 2015. Reflecting, I remember it being several months before I got into see the specialist – but looking back on it, it really only took 3-4 weeks – funny how time causes a shift in perceptions of time! Anyways, I remember feeling like it was taking forever to get into see the world expert in lymphedema – fortunately he is also at Stanford so my breast surgeon’s office could provide enough of a squeaky wheel to get me in. I think the sense of time shift was in part because my hand and arm were clearly swollen and I was in a bit of a panic about what to do about it.
I was lucky. I got treatment quickly, but also my issue was minor. In the image below you can see how my left hand is all puffy – that was October 3, 2015. Compare that to today’s feature image.
It took more that 6 months of daily compression (30-40 mmHg) to clear it up. Now I need to wear sleeves (on both arms because I had lymph nodes out on both sides) when I’m over 5000 feet, flying, or doing exercise that involves strain on my arms. Fortunately, the preventative sleeves are only 20-30 mmHg, so more comfortable. That being said, when my arm was swollen, the compression felt good. Now that the arm is not swollen it is not very comfortable – mostly just a nuisance. The bigger issue, which I’ve lamented on before, is that I cannot take IVs in either arm – that will be a lifetime pain the foot! However, with each IV in the arm, there is a 1% chance of lymphedema of the most nasty kind – causing the effected arm to swell to 3-4 times the normal size within hours.
Recently, someone who just had some arm swelling was asking me about my experience – which made me want to write this. I want this to be encouraging. That being said, I cannot say anything about major lymphedema as I only had minor lymphedema (stage 0/1). I’m told that if it was any worse then it would be “a one way street”, that is, not curable. But for those who are reading this that only have minor swelling, there is still a chance that it can get better. I attribute my healing to compression, but also to swimming. I made a conscious effort to swim at least 3 times per week – swimming about a mile, which meant an hour in the pool.
My arms have been clear for more than six months now, so I finally feel ready to put my ring back on. I had been afraid that putting it on would cause things to swell again – some sort of jinx or something. However, I found that I was missing my ring. I wanted to wear it again. Fortunately, it still fits! And so, I have returned my wedding ring to where it belongs – on my finger!
Do you have experience with minor lymphedema? Did yours get better? If so, how long did it take and what did you do to treat it?