Lets get the swelling down! Nancy Bruning

After my mastectomy, I was bowled over by the extent of the surgery. I worried about restoring my range of motion and strength. That was bad enough. And then I heard about lymphedema—a permanent swelling of the arm, hand, fingers or chest  after breast cancer treatment.  In other words, potential for lifetime of discomfort and diminished use of my arm.

I was lucky to have been physically active before my diagnosis, and was eager to get back to that. Imagine my relief to learn that exercise—at the proper time after healing—was not only possible, but good for me. I never did get lymphedema, and decades after my treatment I have full use of my arm, although it does get a bit tired and achy if I overdo something, like kayaking for hours on end.

Recently, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued new guidelines. The guidelines say exercise will not make the lymphedema worse and could improve well-being. Their experts say that women who suffer swelling following breast cancer treatment should be encouraged to exercise.

I’d never heard of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) before they issued their important new guidelines. NICE is a non-departmental public body of the Department of Health in the United Kingdom that
publishes guidelines in four areas:  The use of health technologies, clinical practice, guidance for public sector workers on health promotion, and guidance for social care services and users. NICE has a high reputation internationally as a role model for the development of clinical guidelines, especially regarding cost–benefit boundaries. So, it behooves us to listen.

The new NICE guidance, recommends that  doctors and nurses discuss with patients how exercise may improve their quality of life—especially the one in five people treated for breast cancer who will go on to develop lymphedema.

Although they say that the current evidence shows “exercise does not prevent, cause or worsen lymphoedema”.

Lymphedema can happen when your body’s lymphatic system becomes damaged –in the case of breast cancer, by surgery or radiation–and is unable to drain fluid in the normal way.

Many people are confused and may be leery of exercise, thinking it could cause or worsen lymphedema.

Jackie Harris, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said  “Lymphoedema can be controlled but will never go away and we know that regular exercise has many benefits for those living with or at risk of lymphedema.”

“Regular movement in everyday life or work can help keep joints supple and aids lymph drainage and extra exercises can also be useful if swelling restricts movement of the arm.”

Moving for Life Dance classes are specifically designed to encourage lymph drainage.
Martha Eddy has studied and taught about the movement flow of lymph and how our own movementnchoices can help in increasing the flow, even after the adversity of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.  She has created the Lymphatic Warrior Phrase that can be done seated or standing.  Women who have practiced MFL report reduced swelling, less pain, and the ability to fly without swelling worsening when they do the exercises at home or while traveling.   MovingForLife_abstract MovingForLife_Air That I BREATHE X MovingForLife_animated bye

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The Unconventional Lecturer

 

Earlier this month, Dr. Martha Eddy invited me to a Moving For Life lecture.

Once at Jacobi Hospital, I sat in a circle with about fifteen other women who came to SHARE’s breast cancer support group in Jacobi Hospital. Dr. Eddy began with a check in: what hurts. Almost unanimously, joints. For some it was back, for some it was the knees. Most were fatigued and unmotivated. In this moment, the women enjoyed unapologetic honesty by airing out the pains they silently suffer day to day. I know it was comforting to hear that none of the ailments were uncommon.

Continuing on, I realized I was misled by the word “lecture”, which implies that one person talks to a group, maybe opening the floor to questions at the end. Instead, Dr. Eddy created a space of dialogue. At any moment, women would speak up for clarification or a quick question. We laughed at some of the stories they were willing to share. And at one point, were brought to tears by one in particular who was stuck at a treatment option crossroads. Fortunately, the other ladies gave honest advice about their own experiences with treatment and recovery.

Dr. Eddy had some of her own advice too. For the joints they complained about earlier: some hand exercises that played with squeezing and pressure. For those joints, we focused on posture and bone alignment. For ab strength, which would relieve back pain, a core strengthening workout that can be done in the chair. “I can feel that one! Woo!” one woman laughed. With each direction, everyone in the room mimicked Dr. Eddy’s move, but also got to hear exactly why and how the movement would benefit them. In this way, the value of movement is no secret.

The information is there, but perhaps never before presented in such an accessible format. I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed environment. I enjoyed feeling talked to instead of talked at. And I appreciated the genuineness from everyone present, which showed in the eagerness to share what we knew to help the other women in the group.

Lectures like these and classes are available several times a week. Click for a schedule. Each time you go is sure to be different. I will be going to Emblem Health in Harlem today for the 5:30pm DanceExerscise class! Hope to see you there!