Breast Cancer Awareness: What to know about lymphedema

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Woodlands, TX – Dawn McDonald was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014.

She ended up having a double mastectomy with reconstruction. After surgery, she noticed her arm wasn’t working well and was discolored. She was diagnosed with lymphedema, a permanent condition where a limb swells and becomes difficult to use.

“It’s like there’s a piece of your plumbing that’s removed,” McDonald explained. “Your veins take the blood out and the lymph system takes everything else out and cleanse your body of toxins, so when you have lymphedema you’re also at risk of infection.”

While she was a patient at TIRR, she fell in love with the idea of helping other people treat this condition and it has changed her life. She got certified to be a lymphedema specialist and now works with other breast cancer patients experiencing the same thing.

“It makes my life and having cancer meaningful beyond words,” McDonald said.

To treat lymphedema, McDonald does specialized massages, exercises and compression wraps, but treating the patient’s spirit is just as important to her.

“I’m so excited! I want that kind of excitement to be given to people who have had this diagnosis and have this problem and say, ‘This is not the end. Don’t let this define you, you define what you want, and I’ll help you get there!’” McDonald said. “I’m going to empower you to live because we did not survive this not to live.”

McDonald’s two main messages are: early detection saves lives and if you have lymphedema, talk to a specialist about how to manage it.