It's sometimes referred to as cancer's dirty little secret. Lymphedema is a lifelong condition that can strike patients after cancer treatment. Carla Harris was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2009. Treatment included radiation and surgery. When she heard about lymphedema she didn't think the sometimes painful condition would happen to her.
"It was mentioned as one of the possible, rare, unlikely side effects of surgery," Harris said.
Two months after surgery she was diagnosed with lymphedema and now faces a life long battle. She's prone to infection from bug bites and sunburn and has to be careful of change in altitude or physical activity that may cause her to swell.
"It affects every minute of my day from getting dressed in the morning and putting on my compression garments to what I can lift. Whether I can lift my children," Harris said.
Lymphedema is when fluid builds up in the arms, legs or torso. This can happen after lymphnodes are removed or damaged from cancer treatment. In breast cancer patients often times lymphnodes are removed in the arm.
Cyndi Stabenow is an Occupational Therapist and Certified Lymphedema Therapist at UVA HealthSouth in Charlottesville and said there's no cure but Lymphedema can be controlled.
"This is a condition that needs to be managed so that fluid build-up doesn't continue to go on," Stabenow said.
Treatment includes fitting patients with compression bandages, garments and special massage therapy.
"It's a process that can take sometimes the intensiveness of it maybe five days a week or two or three weeks maybe three times a week after that," Stabenow said.
People with lymphedema have to be diligent about their care so the swelling stays under control.
Jennifer Von Reuter joined the NBC29 news team in June 2009 as a general assignment reporter. Prior to joining NBC29, Jennifer worked as an anchor and reporter for WHAG-TV in Hagerstown, MD. Email/Follow on Twitter/ Full Story