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What every breast cancer survivor should know about Lymphedema

Woman with a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon

By Dixie Ann Belle

Many breast cancer survivors will probably tell you that the battle against the disease is one of the hardest they may have ever faced. That is why these courageous people deserve all the support they need as they go through the fight of their lives.

While a lot is known about the importance of detection and the treatment of the disease, not many people are fully aware of its aftermath. After breast cancer treatment, there are sometimes complications that survivors might not anticipate.

Locally certified lymphedema therapist and board-certified massage therapist, Ka-rie-Ann de Gannes is particularly aware of this risk of complications as she sees them all the time in her clients.

“After surgery or radiation therapy, some patients develop lymphedema,” she ex-plains. “This is an abnormal swelling in the arms, hands, breasts or torso. In severe cases, patients need treatment to reduce the effects, and it’s important that they understand what to look for and where to seek help.”

De Gannes has been working with lymphedema patients for 20 years and is the founder of the Lymphedema Association of Trinidad and Tobago. She also does consultations. Throughout the year, she works to raise awareness about the condi-tion and how to treat it.

This year during Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), she was one of the volunteer presenters at the TRHA Oncology Unit’s annual health fair at Gulf City Mall in Tobago on October 11 to help the public understand how to manage the disease. She will also be working at the National Radiology Centre, St James throughout October.

“Lymph nodes and vessels drain fluids throughout the body,” she illustrates. “When the lymphatic system is compromised, the fluid cannot drain properly and swelling occurs.”

Many sufferers hide the grotesque and uncomfortable swelling and are not aware that their condition is treatable. “Often their clothing doesn’t fit,” says De Gannes. “Naturally their emotional health and sense of body image is affected. They can suffer from depression and a sense of isolation.”

De Gannes works with her clients to devise a treatment plan which can combine a specialised manual therapy called ‘vodder lymphatic drainage’ and accessories which can significantly reduce swelling. She also recently began offering medicupping which involves a special machine that applies suction to the skin to allow for the smooth flow of lymph.

Lymphedema patients use accessories which reduce symptoms with regular application. De Gannes is one of the licensed distributors of these items in Trinidad and Tobago. Through her company Kneading to Relax, she offers a variety of custom and ready-to-wear sleeves to help manage mild to severe lymphedema through therapeutic medical compression.

She also acquires bandages designed for patients to wear at night and coaches them in their correct usage. She plans to have sample items at her promotional booth at the Oncology Unit health fair.

“It is very empowering for my patients to participate in their own treatment,” the specialist affirms. “It’s important though for people to seek professional assistance. Trying to treat lymphedema on your own can often cause setbacks in improving the condition.”

On the first and last Mondays of the month, De Gannes travels from Trinidad to Scarborough, Tobago for appointments with her clients. She finds considerable satisfaction in helping breast cancer survivors overcome this hurdle in their journey.

“Regular breast exams are so important,” she notes. “It’s also essential to consult your physician about your treatment and follow professional advice. I recommend asking about the risk of lymphedema. Get a referral to a specialist. Don’t let the problem affect your quality of life.”

She emphasises, “Breast cancer survivors already have experience with dealing with health-related obstacles and overcoming them. With support, dealing with lymphedema would be just another step on their road to victory.”

De Gannes can be contacted at 776-7285 or kneading2relax@gmail.com. Find her on FB: ‘Kneading to Relax Massage Therapy Service’.