October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As part of that, we wanted to shed some light on a condition that can arise even after a woman has beaten the disease.
It's been years since Tina Washington overcame breast cancer. But, she's reminded daily of her battle thanks to Lymphedema, a condition that requires compression to treat the permanent and sometimes painful swelling in her arm.
"I have to wear my sleeve every day. Usually when I'm getting dressed I put my sleeve and glove on like it's part of my clothes," she says.
While removing her tumor, surgeons also removed 12 of Tina's lymph nodes, causing her Lymphedema. Facing a similar diagnosis, Emmie Cheses searched for different options.
"I'm right handed and it was on my right side, I'm an active mom, I had lymph node bypass surgery when I was 45," she shared.
The lymph node bypass performed on Emmie created tiny channels around the affected area, dramatically cutting her risk of Lymphedema
"It can be reduced from a chance of up to 40 percent to a chance of between 4 percent," explains Dr. Roman Skoracki with Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital.
It was actually Dr. Skoracki who performed Emmie's surgery at Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. In addition to bypass surgery, Skoracki also pioneered lymph node transfer surgery, which moves lymph nodes to where they're needed without affecting other parts of the body.
"We utilize some lymph nodes that are, I guess 'spare parts' if you want to call them that, that we can take away without causing harm elsewhere, and transplanting those into the area of the Lymphedema," he says.
The surgeries offer doctors new options in dealing with Lymphedema and patients new hope for a normal life, long after their cancer is cured.
We checked with local cancer centers, and Duke is among the handful of hospitals performing these surgeries. The UNC Lineburger Comprehensive Cancer Center says it does not currently offer these procedures, however, they do have a program offering support and treatment for Lymphedema.