Lymphedema is very common in people who have had a lymph node dissection as part of a mastectomy to treat their breast cancer. These women and men often suffer from pain, swelling, heaviness, tightness, loss of range of motion, and other symptoms in one or both arms. Some patients may also suffer from recurring infections and, if lymphedema progresses far enough, a hardening or thickening of the skin.
Sadly, despite its prevalence in post-mastectomy patients and other people who lack an adequate number of functional lymph nodes, lymphedema is still not an ailment many people are aware of. This is a double tragedy because it makes life more difficult and embarrassing for those who have it.
Angela Marquez knows this struggle. She is a cervical cancer survivor who had lymph nodes removed in her pelvis, leading to lymphedema in her leg. She works hard every day to maintain the condition to the best of her ability, but she knows it won’t ever go away and believes it’s not something she should have to be ashamed of.
In an effort to encourage others with lymphedema to be proud of their survivor bodies and to reach out for help when they need it, Marquez has turned to social media to show off photos and body-positive messages that spread awareness and acceptance of lymphedema. She uses her Instagram page, funky_lymphedema, to get the word out about the condition and lovingly refers to her swollen appendage as her “lymphie leg.”
If you’re struggling with lymphedema, please know that you are not alone and that help is available, even though there are no cures for this condition. Compression sleeves, massage, and other techniques can help to a certain extent, and a couple of different kinds of surgery (including a lymph bypass and a lymph node transplant) are available to help when other treatments aren’t doing the trick.
But perhaps the most important treatment of all is the camaraderie, support, and tips you can get from meeting others who suffer from this same condition.
Check out the video below to learn more about the battle for lymphedema awareness and treatment.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?