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March is National Lymphedema Awareness Month

Mar 11, 2015 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
The spotlight was first focused on the condition known as lymphedema back in 1974 when screen legend Ingrid Bergman underwent surgery for breast cancer. This was a day and age when breast cancer was barely discussed, let alone it's nasty side effects. But gutsy Ms. Bergman went public with the painful, disfiguring details.

Lymphedema is, among other things, a potential side effect of breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy that can appear in some people during the months or even years after treatment ends.

Lymph is a thin, clear fluid that circulates throughout the body to remove wastes, bacteria, and other substances. Edema is the buildup of excess fluid. Put them together and you get too much lymph collecting in any part of the body. It is estimated that up to 10 million Americans deal with this painful swelling (even referred to as elephantiasis in later, irreversible stages).

Breast cancer patients are not the only people affected, however. Sometimes it’s hereditary, or possibly caused by infection, or sometimes they simply have no idea.

Lymphedema Diary, a terrific blog dedicated to assisting with the practical, everyday issues of lymphedema, addresses this right out of the gate: Lymphedema: A medical condition that many medical professionals cannot diagnose, do not understand, and are incapable of advising patients about, leaving the patients to seek guidance from strangers on blogs.

The charming and afflicted-with-the-condition hostess of this blog (and a graduate of Arundel High and Towson University) has never had breast cancer, so she’s in the who-the-heck-knows category. She offers an information swapping forum for other patients as well as multiple how-to videos for demonstrating everything from exercises to tips on how to put on the industrial-strength and shockingly expensive compression stockings.

There is no cure for lymphedema—there’s barely a treatment regime. What is needed is research, and lots of it. Hence, Lymphedema Awareness Month. Click here to donate to the Lymphatic Education and Research Network http://lymphaticnetwork.org/get-involved/donate/. Academy-Award winning actress Kathy Bates (and breast cancer survivor) serves as spokesperson for the group.

--Sarah Hagerty
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