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Coping with lymphoedema – Sue’s story

Helen Rollason Cancer Charity


Coping with lymphoedema
Sue’s story

When Sue Thompson was diagnosed with lymphoedema, a condition frequently resulting from the removal of lymph nodes, she was fortunate to be referred to the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity based in Chelmsford. The Charity treats cancer patients holistically and offers therapeutic support often unavailable elsewhere.

Coping with a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment presents a huge challenge for anyone. And for some, while treatment of the cancer itself may prove effective, it can cause secondary health issues that need to be dealt with quickly and effectively if a patient’s condition is not to deteriorate.

This is the situation that Sue Thompson (63), from Maldon in Essex found herself in recently. Having been diagnosed with malignant melanoma six years ago, Sue underwent surgery to successfully treat her cancer. However, the illness recurred in July 2007 and as a result Sue had an operation to remove her lymph nodes. In addition she took part in a research trial of a new group of anti-cancer drugs called monoclonal antibodies.

One of the effects of lymph node removal is the occurrence of lymphoedema, a condition whereby fluid is retained in the lymphatic system causing painful swelling in limbs (and other areas) which can lead to dangerous infection.

Lorna Ellis and Sue ThompsonSue was affected by lymphoedema following her lymph node operation, with fluid being retained in her left leg to the point that it was measured at 30% larger than her right when the condition was at its worst. There is little NHS treatment for lymphoedema currently available in Essex and only a few qualified private therapists. Sue was fortunate to be referred to the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity based in Chelmsford.

The organisation exists to provide care and support for people following a cancer diagnosis, and its Rochelle House centre in Springfield offers various support services including management of lymphoedema.

Sue’s treatment involves the use of bandages and massage to help stimulate the lymphatic system by opening new drainage channels, and this therapy, 'Manual Lymphatic Drainage' (MLD), has proven wonderfully effective in her case. A specialised massage technique is used and multi-layer compression bandaging is applied to the limb. Together these help to reduce the volume of fluid trapped in the affected limb.

“The treatment has been excellent,” says Sue, “it has worked brilliantly and after seven treatments the improvement in my condition has been amazing. I’ve been very careful to stick to the sort of lifestyle that the charity suggested – which includes lots of gentle exercise, and this has really played its part.” Sue has found that Thai Chi is really enjoyable, a gentle yet powerful discipline, and great for helping improve her circulation.

HRHCC’s Lorna Ellis (Service Development Manager at Rochelle House) says of Sue, “she has been an excellent patient and followed all of the after care rules that are designed to maximise the effectiveness of the treatment!

“The swelling associated with lymphoedema is a constant reminder of the cancer that has affected a patient, and that in itself is an important reason for the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity to offer this treatment. By dealing with lymphoedema we can improve a patient’s quality of life, which is very much in keeping with the charity’s ethos.”

For more details on the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity and the support and treatment services it offers see the Healthy Life article "The Helen Rollason Cancer Charity"
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