Stacy Skinner is a lifelong educator, world traveler and, as of 2019, a breast cancer survivor. Stacy’s lifesaving treatment included breast conservation surgery, the removal of two sentinel lymph nodes and intraoperative radiation therapy — all of which put her at risk for breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL).
She underwent routine pre- and post-operative oncology physical therapy, engaged in a series of at-home, progressive exercises and maintained each of her follow-up appointments. She did all of the things she was supposed to. Nevertheless, Stacy still developed Stage 1 lymphedema.
The lymphatic system is a network of organs, tissues and vessels, and is a part of the immune system that guards against infection. Lymphedema occurs when there is a direct or indirect disruption of the lymphatic system in the form of surgery, radiation, injury and any trauma.
Lymphedema is most commonly associated with cancer treatments, which include removing lymph nodes through surgical procedures or radiation. Breast cancer survivors may develop lymphedema in their arm, hand, chest, head or neck.
Stacy sought lymphedema treatment at the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center and immediately saw substantial improvements in her condition.
Lymphedema therapy focuses on four components: manual lymphatic drainage, compression, exercise and skin care. Manual lymphatic drainage is a light massage that assists with moving the lymph fluid back into the circulatory system. Compression can be in the form of wraps and/or a sleeve or stocking to prevent more swelling. Exercises enhance the movement of lymph fluid. Meticulous skin care decreases risk for infection in the swollen areas.
“Lymphedema therapy has been a true education. It has given me tools to manage my condition, many of which are tenets of a healthy lifestyle, including mindful nutrition and skin care,” shared Stacy. “It has also been a blessing to establish care with Sue, my certified lymphedema therapist. She continues to be a serendipitous addition to my care team.”
Sue Kimrey is an occupational therapist who is also a specially-trained, certified lymphedema therapist at TMRC. For the past five years, her passion has been helping patients through their cancer journeys and managing their symptoms, which can change every aspect of their physical, emotional and social well-being.
“Lymphedema is a life-changing condition that affects a person’s quality of life and functional performance,” explained Sue. “Occupational therapy and physical therapy have a major impact on the quality of life and improvement in function in the lives of those diagnosed with lymphedema.”
Sue was also instrumental in resolving a severe lymphatic reaction Stacy had following her second COVID-19 vaccine. Although swollen lymph nodes are a recognized side effect of the vaccine, her individual reaction was particularly problematic because of how closely it mimicked breast cancer symptoms.
It was important to Stacy to resolve the issue before regularly scheduled imaging in mid-April 2021. Sue quickly responded and thoughtfully recalibrated Stacy’s treatment. Based on her care, the reaction subsided within 24 hours and, after a series of follow-up appointments, began to resolve.
“My advice for others going though breast cancer treatment, lymphedema therapy or any healthcare journey is to advocate for the best care, not just the most convenient care,” shared Stacy. “Make time to take care of you; self-care is not selfish. Live well— eat well, sleep well, exercise well and be well.”
The lymphedema therapy program is an incredible expansion to the Walker Breast Program, which is a part of Florida’s longest continuously accredited comprehensive community hospital cancer program and the Big Bend region’s only breast program accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC).
The Walker Breast Program provides patients in the Big Bend region with personalized, comprehensive and compassionate care for breast health. Offering a wide range of services, patients have access to advanced screenings for preventive care, diagnostics and testing, state-of-the-art treatments, as well as breast health education and support programs, all conveniently located on Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare’s campus.
The lymphedema therapy program also works closely with the Tallahassee Memorial Metabolic Health Center, Tallahassee Memorial Heart & Vascular Center and Tallahassee Memorial Wound Healing Center.
Should you or a loved one feel you are in need of treatment for lymphedema, please speak with your physician about a referral to the lymphedema therapy program. For more information, call the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center at 850-431-5164 or visit TMH.ORG/Rehab.
Kate Beckwith is Senior Communications Strategist at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
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