New Treatment Option for Patients With Lymphedema


A new recirculating compression system has been designed to help patients manage their lymphedema.

It was still dark when I rolled out of bed. As I made myself leave the warmth of my electric blanket, I glanced at the clock. It was 7 a.m., an hour later than when I woke yesterday. I am thankful to have gotten a good night's sleep. The Restoril (Temazepam) Dr. F prescribed was definitely working.

I walk across the cold bathroom floor in my bare feet and turn on the shower. The lymphedema specialist is coming at 9:30 a.m. and I need to get ready. While the water runs, I make my bed and then head back into the bathroom to take my shower. The water feels warm on my skin and I long to stand there as it massages my aching muscles. Instead, I quickly wash and get out. After drying off and dressing, I put on my makeup. I've been doing this for so many years that I can have my complete face on in less than four minutes. As I'm putting on my last coat of mascara, I hear my cell phone ding. It’s the therapist. She says she'll be here at 9 a.m. Time to shift into high gear.

I run into the living room and tidy up. I flip on my Bose sound system and slide in a classical CD then plug in my scent warmer. I'm hoping to provide a serene atmosphere for my visitor, but mainly for myself. I'm nervous. A few minutes later, the doorbell rings, just as I down the last of my protein shake. I open the door and greet a young blonde woman carrying a huge bright blue duffel bag. She says her name is Anna as she steps over the threshold. I'm curious about the equipment Anna has in her bag and luckily don't have to wait long to see her cargo.

Anna sets up her iPad on my living room table and goes over some paperwork with me, having me sign some documents with my finger. She apologizes for having forgotten her stylus. I do my best to write legibly, but it doesn't work. Oh well. She smiles and says it's okay and that everyone has trouble writing with their index finger. I watch as she begins to unzip her duffel and pull out the electric recirculating pump. She shows me the buttons and dials and quickly explains their functions. Next, she pulls out what looks like a brown suede straight jacket with wires and hoses attached to it.

She watches my face and laughs. "It really does look strange, doesn't it?" she says. I respond with a nod of my head.

Anna lays the contraption on the sofa and pulls out a measuring tape. She needs to take my measurements so she can order the proper equipment especially for me. First she measures my inner leg and enters the measurement into her tablet. Next comes my wrist, forearm and upper arm and then my chest wall.

As she measures my chest she says with a huge grin, "I'm going to give you a big hug now." I laugh as she slides the measuring tape around me. At least she has a good personality. I'm thankful for that. She records all of the measurements in her computer and then tells me it's time for me to receive my first treatment. I wasn't expecting to have a treatment today, and I guess my facial expression indicates that. She assures me it will be fine and to just relax.

I stand in the middle of my living room as this young college-aged girl places the compression jacket on my body. She fastens many Velcro closures to make sure the fit is snug. There are hoses and wires all over me. Sheskillfully connects them to their ports on the pump and plugs it in. She tells me to be seated and then she turns on the pump. Anna explains what is going to happen next. She says the pump will compress different areas of my body and then move on to a new section. It will repeat this procedure many times over the next hour. I will feel tightness, but should not feel any discomfort.

The process is odd but strangely comforting. Gentle squeezing pressure begins at my upper arm and moves gradually down to my fingertips. The pressure also travels to my chest wall, waist and upper thigh. I ask Anna why I need to have those areas compressed, and she explains that lymph glands are all over my body. By gently compressing targeted areas, the machine will help my body disperse the lymphatic fluid so my body can process and eliminate it. While I'm in my compression suit, I tell Anna I feel like the Marshmallow Man in the movie “Ghost Busters.” She laughs and agrees.

Anna and I strike up a conversation and she wants to know how I found my breast cancer. I tell her the entire story and weave my faith carefully throughout, in hopes of finding an opening to witness to her. As I continue my story, she seems genuinely interested and I share a verse of Scripture with her. I share Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope." I tell her I've been able to see my cancer as a gift from God....a gift He used to teach me many things. I tell her I know God allowed the cancer into my life and that's the way I can accept it as part of His perfect will for me. She smiles and asks more questions.

While we've been talking, the compression garment has been doing a great job. I'm amazed at how quiet the pump is and how relaxed the flowing of air through the chambers is making me feel. Before I know it, our hour is up. Anna is beginning to unhook the hoses and wires. She tells me she's got to head to Marietta next and then on to North Carolina. It seems she travels quite a bit. I thank Anna as she moves her large duffle toward the door. I tell her to be careful as she travels and she smiles telling me I sound just like her mom. I smile and wish her well.

After Anna leaves, I look over the paperwork she left with me. The equipment is very expensive. Even after our insurance pays their part, we'll be left owing $950, but Anna said we may qualify for special financial assistance that would greatly reduce or perhaps cover all of our fees. I'm hoping we'll qualify because that would be a great blessing.

I'm not sure how I'll fit the compression sessions into my daily life. Anna said I'll need to do it twice a day. I guess I can do it when I first wake up and then once again before I go to bed. If I chose those times of day, it shouldn't be too invasive. And if I need to travel, I guess I'll have to invest in a large rolling duffel like Anna uses.

I'm so thankful for my oncologist. His attentiveness, caring and concern has been such a blessing. If he hadn't noticed the extreme swelling in my arms at my appointment the other day, I would have never known there was equipment available to help with lymphedema. Anna told me the equipment she brought was invented by a nurse whose husband developed severe lymphedema after complications from his own cancer treatments. I'm very thankful for her ability to understand and develop equipment that specifically targeted her husband's problem areas and then pass that knowledge on to others. I guess many pieces of medical equipment are invented out of necessity. Dr. F stays on top of the latest medical advancements because he wants the very best care for his patients. I am grateful for his expertise and friendship.

In the next few weeks, my very own Flexitouch System lymphedema pump will arrive and I'll strap myself in for instant inflation and compression. I may look like the Marshmallow Man for a couple of hours every day, but at least I'll have better mobility and less swelling and that makes me very happy!

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