The post below was written on January 10th, 2010 by a family member of mine. Lois (not her real name) maintains a healthy, active life. When I asked her to write something about her breast cancer experience for PeopleBeatingCancer, this is what she had to say to her fellow breast cancer survivors.
I am a long-term cancer survivor and cancer coach. Years of research and experience has taught me to learn about both conventional and non-conventional therapies to manage cancer.
My breast cancer story is pretty much like others. I have been cancer free for 19 years (originally diagnosed in 1991) after a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy.
What I WOULD like to share with others is the story of my lymphedema (LMA) Years after my cancer I was having some procedure and the doctor started to put an intravenous needle in my arm. I told him he had to use my foot (both arms are at risk). He said he wasn’t trained to do that and so he would use my hand or I could tough it out. So he inserted the fluid in a vein in my hand. Within 24 hours I was in the throes of rather severe LMA. For months and months I wrapped my arm each night with 50 feet (sic) of bandages, went thought massage exercises and wore a sleeve every day. I had frequent professional massages and lymphedema doctor appointments.
During this misery I started to work with a personal trainer. Long story short he started me lifting weights and the lymphedema is GONE. The message here is DO NOT BE AFRAID TO LIFT WEIGHTS no matter what the doctor says, I honestly believe that the old theory of not lifting anything with your bad arm is badly mistaken advice.
“Whether or not you regularly exercised your arm and upper body before developing lymphedema, exercise is likely to be an important part of your treatment plan. In the past, women often were advised to avoid exercising the arm, for fear this could worsen lymphedema. Now research shows that if women start exercising slowly under the supervision of a lymphedema therapist, taking care not to overstress the arm, exercise is not likely to make lymphedema worse. Some studies suggest that it can play a role in reducing lymphedema flare-ups.”
“Is it safe to exercise with lymphedema? Won’t I swell more if I exercise?
Yes, exercise is safe with lymphedema as long as you pay attention to a few basic principles. If you have lymphedema you should exercise wearing your compression bandages or your compression garments.
Will exercise make my lymphedema worse?
No. Research has shown us that in women with breast cancer related lymphedema, exercise is safe. In fact, women who participated in a supervised, slowly progressive weight lifting program had a 50% reduction in the likelihood of lymphedema flares during the time of the study.
Why should I wear compression when I exercise?
The compression garments, or bandages, increase the efficiency of the muscle pumps in moving the fluid from your limb(s), trunk, or face. Without the compression, the increased circulation and increased production of lymph fluid will collect in the areas that are lymphedematous, or swollen.
How do I begin to exercise?
First, get clearance from your healthcare provider that it is okay to begin exercising.
Then begin slowly with no weight, doing active range of motion exercises.
Your exercise should be:
What kind of exercises should I do?
Your exercise program should include the following:
How can I start my own exercise program?
Set parameters for exercise:
Intensity – target heart rate for aerobic, endurance exercise. Time of day – set a time of day that works best for you. Try to be consistent with the time so that it becomes part of your daily routine.
Vary your exercise routine, for example:
Strength and flexibility training every other day. Aerobic exercise on the days you don’t do strength and flexibility. Find someone to exercise with you – it’s more enjoyable that way. Incorporate deep breathing and posture into your exercise.
What are some examples of aerobic exercise?
Aerobic exercise is any exercise that you do for a continuous period of time at your target heart rate, with the goal of attaining 25 – 30 minutes of exercise. Start slowly and gradually build up the amount of time you are exercising until you reach 25 – 30 minutes. You should be able to complete the exercise without being short of breath, overly fatigued, or sore.
Examples include: continuous walking or walking on a treadmill, riding a bicycle or a stationary bicycle, jogging, swimming or walking laps in the pool with water above waist height, going up and down a flight of stairs, exercising on a stepper or an elliptical machine.
What should I expect to feel once I start exercising?
You will likely experience some muscle soreness at first that will resolve after a few days as your body gets used to the new activity. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and do not push yourself to the point of over fatigue. Your health care provider can help you start an exercise program that is appropriate for your level of conditioning. The important thing to remember is that you need to start out with low levels of exercise and gradually increase the intensity and length of time of your exercise as you get stronger and more conditioned. If you notice increased, persistent swelling after exercise, you may have done too much. Remember, you need to start with small amounts and build gradually…
Have fun! Enjoy your new level of activity! Notice your new level of energy!