The challenges of living with Lymphedema gets so much worse during the warmer months of Summer. Here in Ohio, we had a long, cold Winter and then a cold Spring. Then bam, it is Summer– hot and humid all the time!
My sister (also a breast cancer survivor) and I both have Lymphedema. My sister has more truncal lymphedema in her body, side of breast, and upper arm. My lymphedema is in my left arm from my wrist up to my upper arm.
During the Summer months, my arm swells constantly and is much larger than it is during the colder months. Always, I wear my sleeve at least 12 to 14 hours per day, but in the Summer, I cannot even think of cheating by keeping it off for an hour. Not only does the heat cause the swelling, but there are so many activities in the summer that contribute to the swelling – like all the things I love to do –gardening and all that it entails like shoveling while planting flowers, tree trimming, edging, and lifting. Then social activities, sitting in the sun, insect bites, doing outdoor things, and the list goes on!! Not to mention your body temperature rises like crazy! Those sleeves are so hot made of polyester and spandex! YIKES! Sometimes if I am in a hot location with a lot of people around, I have to strip the sleeve quickly or I feel I will faint from the heat! My sister and I get to laughing sometimes, because we get so darn hot in public places and often have to run for the door!
Now in my Fifth Summer of Lymphedema (certainly not a bestselling title), I have learned a few things to help with the heat and dangers of Lymphedema!
- Every chance I get, I spray cold water on my sleeve and arm. It dries quickly, but really helps cool off your body! I look forward to watering my flowers so I can spray my arm. I also stick my arm under the faucet many times per day.
- Be aware of insect bites as you can get the dreaded Cellulitis by a simple insect bite. Wear insect spray if necessary! Mosquitoes love to sit on those sleeves and bite!
- Sunburn is very dangerous to Lymphedema. Be sure to wear your sunscreen SPF 30 and up!
- Be cautious where you swim. Ponds, rivers, and lakes can be very dangerous as bacteria can enter your body through a small cut and Cellulitis can occur.
- If you are traveling to a place where medical care is at a distance, ask your doctor for an antibiotic to carry with you until you can reach medical treatment. On a trip to the isolated parts of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I made sure to carry an antibiotic in case of Cellulitis.
- Stay in air conditioning as much as possible especially after being outside in hot weather. Take a break!
- Make sure you do lymphatic massage.
- See a Certified Lymphedema Therapist regularly.
- Drink LOTS of water!
Always take lymphedema seriously. It is the “dark, little secret of breast cancer” that does not get much attention! Do not be ashamed or embarrassed by it. When people ask me why I wear a sleeve, I have a little speech that I give. I created it because sometimes people stay stupid things to you, even though they might mean well.
In my early years of Lymphedema, I would respond “shark bite” but now I say this which is my way of giving a short teaching:
“I am a Stage 3 Breast Cancer Survivor and grateful for every day of life. Unfortunately, my lymphatic system was greatly compromised because of the cancer. I am still learning to live with it. Be sure to get your mammograms.”