Had Nancy Mendheim’s hangnail been on her left hand instead of her right, she might not be in therapy today.
Her right side was compromised because of the removal of 20 lymph nodes after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2000. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy in Dothan and then went to Arlington Cancer Center in Texas for protocol of treatment.
Patients treated through Southeast Cancer Center will no longer have to leave the state for clinical trials because of the Medical Center’s recent affiliation with the UAB Cancer Center.
She received chemotherapy and had 33 radiation treatments from radiation oncologist Dr. Steve Stokes.
“Then one day I pulled a little hang nail on my right hand. It turned red and was swollen. It developed into lymphedema,” Mrs. Mendheim said.
Lymphedema refers to the swelling and soft tissue changes in the area of the body where injury to the lymphatic system has occurred. Lymphedema may develop because of radiation, surgery, significant trauma, infection, pregnancy, obesity or surgical removal of the lymph nodes.
Most lymphedema patients are cancer survivors, many of them breast cancer survivors. Lymph refers to the clear fluid that carries proteins and other materials back to the heart through the lymphatic system, which is also a part of the body’s immune system.
After her 2002 lymphedema diagnosis, Mrs. Mendheim sought treatment from the only certified Lymphedema Management program in the area, at SAMC’s Rehabilitation Services at1480 Ross Clark Circle just south of the Medical Center.
She has been treated multiple times for lymphedema.
“The problem with lymphedema,” she said, “is, once you get it, you take it to Heaven with you. The key is prevention and that comes through education. In managing it, I’ve learned to cut back on salt and be diligent with arm massage and compression garments.”
SAMC’s Lymphedema Management program recently expanded, adding two more therapists to the staff. Physical therapist Leslie Dallas and PT assistant Juliana Zeh join occupational therapist Beth Wilson in treating lymphedema patients. All are certified through the Academy of Lymphatic Studies.
For the last eight years, Wilson has run the lymphedema program, seeing about 75 patients a year. Many patients come three to four times a week for treatment. The additional staff has the potential of tripling the patient load.
“Lymphedema can worsen without treatment and some swelling of the leg or arm can be severe,” Wilson said. “Patients must understand lymphedema is life-long. There is no cure, but it is manageable through compression.”
Swelling is treated through Complex Decongestive Therapy, a massage technique that reroutes lymph fluid to adequately draining lymph nodes, and through the use of stretch bandages and compression garments and sleeves.
Lymphedema treatment and management also includes reducing fat intake, maintaining good skin care and exercising while wearing a compression sleeve on the affected limb. SAMC’s management program offers various exercise equipment and techniques which help return patients to their daily routines.
For information on lymphedema and to discuss treatment, call 334-712-3726. See more photos of Mrs. Mendheim on Facebook.
Dear SAMC Foundation Donors,
Treating lymphedema patients holds a special place in my heart because I get to develop a unique relationship with them, hear their struggles and help celebrate milestones with them in their lives. The Foundation funds given to the lymphedema program is a benefit to our community to help reduce the out of pocket expenses of our patients. Prior to receiving this grant, patients would be out of pocket anywhere from $50-$300 depending on their compression needs. The funds have allowed us to provide our community of lymphedema patients with the supplies needed to assist them in reducing the size of a swollen extremity with no out of pocket expenses to them. The funds have also been useful in providing compression garments to our patients for prevention of lymphedema from reoccurring in the patients affected extremity. All the patients who have benefited from the funds have been very grateful. It is nice to see a smile on their faces after hearing the news of the grant since most of the lymphedema patients have fought a long battle against cancer or are currently fighting against cancer.
OTR/L, CLT, SAMC Rehab Services