Lymphedema: Taking Control – Management and Prevention

Last month at SHARE we had an educational program entitled, "Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema." It was received very warmly by women who were really hungry for some information to help them cope with a very serious and emotionally debilitating problem.

I knew that Mei R. Fu, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN, Associate Professor, College of Nursing at NYU could help because she helped me after I developed Lymphedema from a non-breast-cancer-related removal of lymph nodes several years ago. I was part of a study conducted by Dr. Fu, where I learned very helpful exercises to manage the condition.

Lymphedema is a syndrome. It is abnormal swelling in the affected arm, hand, breast, neck, shoulder, and upper body. Cancer treatment greatly increases the risk of Lymphedema. The symptoms range from firmness, heaviness, fatigue, and pain to aching and tenderness. In short, it alters your life.

Dr. Fu is a pioneer in the field of how to avoid and if necessary, manage Lymphedema. Soon she will publish a manuscript that will go into greater depth than I will here, but in the meantime I wanted to share with you some exercises that Dr. Fu showed to me. After just six months, I began to show a decrease in the circumference of my wrist and arm, which had swollen due to Lymphedema.

The risk of Lymphedema after breast cancer treatment is lifetime. Dr. Fu has created a program that she calls, "The Optimal YOU: Self-Monitoring." Two critical elements in this program are Breathing and Pumping. Deep Breathing will stimulate the lymphatic ducts and Pumping produces muscle movements that create an action to help drain lymph fluid.

It is important to do these exercises at least two times a day – morning and night.

Here is how you do the exercises…


Standing tall, slowly take a deep inhalation while tightening your whole body muscle; feel like the breath is coming from your toes up into your shoulders. Slowly exhale until you have no air left in your lungs while relaxing your whole body muscle. Do this deep and deliberate breathing three times.


Standing straight and tall, extend your arms over your head; be sure to keep your arms and elbows straight next to your head. Very slowly make a fist while tightening your whole body muscle and then slowly release your hands while relaxing your whole body muscle, keeping your arms over your head. Do this three times.

Next, slowly and deliberately pull your arms down to your waist. Do this movement three times.

It was universal; everyone who attended Dr. Fu's Lymphedema educational program is looking forward to her returning to SHARE to pass on her knowledge and insight about how to manage or prevent this syndrome.


Deb Hackenberry

Deb is Data Manager at SHARE.