How many of you who have never been through breast cancer or who are new to the disease know what a compression sleeve is? Not a lot of people have heard of compression sleeves or lymphedema. When you’re diagnosed with cancer a lot of terms and information are thrown at you. Your mind becomes over-loaded. You hear a lot of stuff you never heard of before, like lymphedema. The doctor describes it to you, but the words whirl around in your mind and never sink in. You never even think about having to wear a compression sleeve for lymphedema. You don’t even know what one is.
So is a compression sleeve a new style? You can order them online with different styles or get them in different colors through a medical supply company. Is lymphedema a fake condition or a real thing?
A fellow employee pointed at my arm. “What are you wearing that sleeve for?”
“It’s for lymphedema. It’s because they removed some lymph nodes from my under-arm to check for cancer,” I told her.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Never heard of that; it must be fake.”
She walked away before I could explain to her what it was.
Before I got breast cancer, I never heard of it either. I was totally confused when my doctor explained it to me. I had to go to physical therapy before my mastectomy. Why would I have to go to therapy when there was nothing wrong and I hadn’t even had my surgery? I even had to answer a questionnaire about my pain level in my arm, and what I could do without or with difficulty. I had no pain and no problems using my arm. It didn’t make sense. Why was I going to physical therapy when there was nothing wrong? Didn’t I need to have surgery first?
I met with a nice lady who measured my arm from the wrist to my shoulder. She told me they would see me within a few weeks after surgery to measure my arm again. Then she explained to me what lymphedema was. The physical therapist gave me a list of things I couldn’t do after surgery like shave my under-arm with a razor, wash dishes without gloves, carry heavy bags, and so on. I had things I also had to watch out for like cuts, scratches, bug bites, and sunburns. It all seemed scary.
I learned that the lymph nodes in my under-arm filter infections and waste fluids from the tissues. When the lymph nodes are removed, they can’t properly filter the fluids and it causes swelling called lymphedema. When the arm starts swelling, then a compression sleeve is prescribed to help ease the swelling. You can learn more about this at MedicineNet https://www.medicinenet.com/lymphedema/article.htm#lymphedema_facts.
After my surgery, my physical therapist found a slight difference in the measurements of my arm. So I was prescribed my stylish compression sleeve. My insurance company covered three of them. I got one tan and two pink ones. My therapist told me I had to wear it at work and anytime I did heavy lifting or strenuous work with my right arm. I’ve worn medical boots to work, ankle braces, and a knee brace, so why not a compression sleeve?
My fashionable sleeve became a hit fast. I was bombarded with questions. Most of them thought I hurt my arm, and some thought I was wearing it to keep my arm warm. My favorite question was, “Is that sleeve a new style?”
I just smiled. “Yeah it is, but only for breast cancer survivors.”
The customer looked confused. To avoid further questioning, I just told her it keeps my arm from swelling because lymph nodes were removed, and it makes me look stylish. I don’t have a lot of time to go into long explanations while waiting on customers and my comment seemed to satisfy her curiosity.
The truth is that a compression sleeve is very important to many women suffering with lymphedema. It may look like a new style or a strange bandage, but it is very important. It helps prevent further swelling and gives comfort when an arm is swollen. My fellow employee calls it a fake sleeve, but it’s very real and necessary.
For new cancer patients, I suggest that when your doctor hands you a pamphlet on lymphedema, read through it, and do what you are told to help prevent it. If you need to wear a compression sleeve, wear it with style. A compression sleeve is a small compromise to being cancer free or in cancer treatment. Wear it with pride. Don’t be afraid of the questions. It doesn’t hurt to educate others about lymphedema and the purpose of compression sleeves. People don’t learn if we don’t share our knowledge with them.
I’m ten months cancer free. I’m not sure if I’ll have to wear my compression sleeve forever or not, but I’ll do what it takes to prevent lymphedema. I wear my sleeve with style and I’m proud to be standing in the light of recovery.