Stacy Skinner is a lifelong educator, world traveler, and a breast cancer survivor since 2019. Stacy’s life-saving treatment included breast-conserving surgery, removal of two sentinel lymph nodes, and intraoperative radiation therapy – all of which put her at risk for breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL).
She underwent routine pre- and post-operative oncological physiotherapy, performed a series of progressive exercises at home, and kept each of her follow-up appointments. She did everything she should. Even so, Stacy still developed stage 1 lymphedema.
The lymphatic system is a network of organs, tissues and vessels and a part of the immune system that protects against infection. Lymphedema occurs when there is a direct or indirect disruption of the lymphatic system in the form of surgery, radiation, injuries, and trauma.
Lymphedema is most commonly associated with cancer treatments, which include removing lymph nodes through surgery or radiation. Breast cancer survivors may develop lymphedema of the arm, hand, chest, head, or neck.
Stacy sought lymphedema treatment at the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center and immediately saw significant improvement in her condition.
Lymphedema therapy focuses on four components: manual lymphatic drainage, compression, exercise and skin care. Manual lymph drainage is a light massage that helps the lymphatic fluid to be transported back into the circulation. The compression can take the form of wraps and / or a sleeve or stocking to prevent further swelling. Exercise improves the movement of lymph fluid. Careful skin care will reduce the risk of infection in the swollen areas.
“Lymphedema therapy was a real training. It has given me tools to manage my condition, many of which are healthy lifestyle principles, including mindful diet and skin care, ”said Stacy. “It was also a blessing to set up a treatment with Sue, my certified lymphedema therapist. She is still a happy addition to my care team. “
Sue Kimrey is an occupational therapist and also a specially trained, certified lymphedema therapist at the TMRC. For the past five years, she has been passionate about helping patients on their cancer path and managing their symptoms that can transform every aspect of their physical, emotional, and social wellbeing.
“Lymphedema is a life-changing condition that affects a person’s quality of life and functional performance,” said Sue. “Occupational therapy and physiotherapy have a major impact on the quality of life and functional improvement in the life of people diagnosed with lymphedema.”
Sue was also instrumental in correcting a severe lymphatic reaction Stacy had after her second COVID-19 vaccine. Although swollen lymph nodes are a recognized side effect of the vaccine, their individual response was particularly problematic as they mimicked breast cancer symptoms.
It was important to Stacy to resolve the issue before regular imaging in mid-April 2021. Sue was quick to respond and carefully adjusted Stacy’s treatment. Because of her care, the reaction subsided within 24 hours and began to subside after a series of follow-up appointments.
“My advice to others undergoing breast cancer treatment, lymphedema therapy, or any other medical journey is to work for the best of care, not just the most convenient,” said Stacy. “Take the time to take care of yourself; Self-care is not selfish. Live well – eat well, sleep well, exercise well and be healthy. “
The Lymphedema Therapy Program is an incredible addition to the Walker Breast Program, which is part of Florida’s longest continuously accredited comprehensive hospital cancer program in Florida and the only breast program in the Big Bend region accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC) .
The Walker Breast Program provides patients in the Big Bend region with personalized, comprehensive, and compassionate care for breast health. With a wide range of services, patients have access to advanced screening, diagnostics and tests, state-of-the-art treatments, and breast health education and support programs, all conveniently located on the Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare campus.
The Lymphedema Therapy Program also works closely with the Tallahassee Memorial Metabolic Health Center, Tallahassee Memorial Heart & Vascular Center, and Tallahassee Memorial Wound Healing Center.
If you or a relative should feel that you need treatment because of a lymphedema, please talk to your doctor about a referral to the lymphedema therapy program. For more information, call the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center at 850-431-5164 or visit TMH.ORG/Rehab.
Kate Beckwith is a Senior Communications Strategist at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
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