A lifelong impact

MORWELL’S Joan Clegg lives with a little known condition that affects more than 400,000 Australians and acts as a constant reminder of her breast cancer survival.

Joan has lymphoedema, which she contracted after her lymph nodes were removed in 2006 and causes her right arm to swell persistently.

While she takes steps to avoid and relieve the painful swelling, there is no cure for the debilitating condition.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer as a 50 year-old, Joan underwent surgery to remove the cancer, during which a biopsy of her lymph nodes showed the cancer had spread.

When Joan’s lymph nodes were removed, she hadn’t even heard of the condition that she now must manage for the rest of her life.

“While I was in hospital I was told about it, but because the specialist nurse wasn’t there I didn’t get much information about it. I didn’t pay much attention; I didn’t think I would get it.

“It was once I got home and I started to do too much, my arm started to swell and I had pins and needles and it was feeling heavy. I assumed it was from the surgery… and then it swelled to three times the size of the other.”

At a follow-up appointment with her surgeon he immediately diagnosed with lymphoedema, the persistent swelling of a limb or other body region.

Joan said she was relieved to find out her condition had a name and could be managed.

Joan’s surgeon referred her to private lymphoedema practitioner Janet Milne, who said she had about 18 appointments a week with lymphoedema patients.

“Clients get much better results with early detection, that’s why its so important to raise awareness of the condition, because I think there’s people out there that have it, but don’t know that they do,” Janet said.

Joan said some of the things Janet taught her to practice to prevent and relieve the swelling included wearing a compression sleeve, moisturising, massaging and avoiding heat or becoming overweight.

“Mentally it’s a hard condition to have. That’s why you need the support of people like Janet and the Australasian Lymphology Association,” Joan said.

March is Lymphoedema Awareness Month, visit www.lymphoedema.org.au for more information.