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Decades later, breast cancer survivor finds relief from painful swelling

Decades later, breast cancer survivor finds relief from painful swelling

Health
After decades of suffering from lymphedema, Patricia Anderson finally found relief.

After decades of suffering from painful lymphedema, Patricia Anderson finally found relief with the help of Tidelands Health physical therapist and clinical specialist Amy Parker.

Patricia Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. At the time, she underwent surgery that included removal of 13 lymph nodes under her left arm.
In the decades since, the Murrells Inlet resident has happily lived cancer-free but has dealt with a common side effect of her treatment: lymphedema.
Lymphedema is a type of swelling that can occur when lymph nodes, which are small, bean-shaped structure that are part of the body’s immune system, are removed and fluid accumulates in a nearby body part – often a limb.
For Anderson, it was her left arm that was affected. The arm would swell so big with fluid that she would have to wear shirts three times her regular size just so it would fit in the sleeve.
“My clothing didn’t fit right, I couldn’t wear rings, my arm was achy and painful all the time and the swelling was very noticeable,” says Anderson.

A new direction

For many years, her treatment consisted of using a pneumatic compression pump that temporarily reduced her symptoms by squeezing her arm to promote the flow of her lymphatic fluid.
But, she says, that only led to minimal success. Then Anderson started seeing a new primary care physician — Dr. Lash Springs of Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Holmestown Road, and that’s when everything started changing for her.
“He was my new physician, and he wanted to know what my biggest problem was,” says Anderson. “I told him about my lymphedema and how I couldn’t get any comfort. He told me I needed to see Amy Parker at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services.

One of the first steps in Patricia Anderson's treatment was an explanation of lymphatic system.

Anderson says after years of suffering, it was like a breath of fresh air when Parker, a clinical specialist and physical therapist at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services at Murrells Inlet, came into her life. One of her specialties is helping individuals with lymphedema.
“She explained to me my whole lymphatic system, which I never understood before,” Anderson says. “Then she started to treat my lymphedema with manual lymphatic drainage, which means she used her hands to do the massage and taught me the massages and how to apply the compression bandage I wear afterward. I started having tremendous success.”

Individualized care

Parker says physical therapy for lymphedema involves specific treatment protocols with an individualized plan of care. It is among the broad array of services offered through Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network, an affiliate of MUSC Health and the most comprehensive provider of cancer care in the region.
The most common physical therapy treatments for lymphedema are:

  • Manual lymph drainage, which involves gentle pressure and skin-moving massage to reduce fluid build-up. This therapy, Parker says, tends to be very relaxing to patients.
  • Lymphatic exercise, which uses specific movements to move lymphatic fluid toward the heart. It also consists of deep breathing.
  • Compression bandages or garments, which decrease re-accumulation of lymph fluid in an affected area. The bandages also offer protection during daily activities.
  • Skin and nail care in affected limbs, which is designed to decrease infection risk and skin breakdown. Individuals with lymphedema tend to be more susceptible to infections of the skin and nails.

“I discuss with patients their personal needs and goals as well as other health conditions to best determine which aspects of treatment will be included and how often they will take place,” Parker says.

Immediate results

When Anderson first underwent Parker’s physical therapy treatments, the results were immediate and drastic. She says she lost approximately 16 ounces of fluid from her arm.
“My left arm was actually slightly smaller than my right arm at that point,” she says.
These days, Anderson performs the therapy herself in conjunction with the compression pump and bandages. She goes in for checkups with Parker when needed and is amazed at how much Parker has helped her.

“I think the sun rises and sets on Amy,” she says. “She’s very smart and she does her job, but she’s also very kind and caring. And she’s with Tidelands Health, and that’s important. I’ve been around a long time and have been treated by a lot of different providers, and I don’t know…there’s just something that makes Tidelands special.”
Anderson is so passionate because she’s experienced so much healing and relief. She wants everyone to know about the care she’s received.
“I hope this program continues, I hope it goes statewide.” Anderson says. “I hope everyone hears about it.”
For her part, Parker says Anderson has been a joy to work with.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to work with people like Patricia and have a positive impact on their lives,” she says. “It makes it easy to get up and come in every day.”

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