Cancer survivor battles on despite lymphoedema diagnosis

GREAT SUPPORT: Allied Health Cancer Care Team lymphoedema specialist Alice Hare and cancer survivor Ken Brown.
GREAT SUPPORT: Allied Health Cancer Care Team lymphoedema specialist Alice Hare and cancer survivor Ken Brown. Melanie Plane

WHEN you meet Ken Brown, he seems like a regular bloke with a nice smile and a friendly, outgoing character.

He has a loving wife Kay to whom he has been married for 21 years. He doesn't look sick or like he's in any pain.

But Mr Brown is a cancer survivor and now suffers from lymphoedema.

"In August of 2007, I discovered unusual lumps under my right arm and was diagnosed a few weeks later with secondary cancer of the lymph nodes," the 55-year-old now semi-retired contract panel beater said.

"The primary cancer was never found," he said.

"I had surgery in October to remove the malignant lymph nodes followed by five weeks of radiation and chemotherapy treatment in Royal Brisbane Hospital.

"I then returned to Rockhampton for another three months of chemotherapy."

Mr Brown said after months of physiotherapy to regain movement in his shoulder, he noticed something strange.

"About nine months after surgery I noticed swelling, tightness and a heavy feeling in my arm," he said.

"I first noticed this after a long period of physical work. I was diagnosed with lymphoedema soon after."

Lymphoedema is an abnormal collection of high-protein fluid just beneath the skin which causes swelling in the arm, leg, breast, trunk, head and neck, or genitals.

The condition develops when lymph nodes are removed or the lymph vessels are damaged.

Mr Brown's arm has not returned to normal size, but it has stabilised and he has learnt how to live a normal, happy life despite it.

"There are many situations that can cause my arm to swell such as heavy lifting, repetitive arm movement and generally over-working the arm, especially in the summer months with the heat," he said.

"Wearing a compression sleeve controls my swelling and stops it getting worse.

"The team at Allied Health at the Rockhampton Hospital have been excellent and taught me how to manage the lymphoedema.

"I use self-massage to drain the lymphatic system, breathing exercises, compression garments and many other techniques.

"I have learned a lot from the lymphoedema therapists about managing lymphoedema but I will say that it is very important to manage the problem correctly because excessive swelling is difficult to reverse.

"I have limitations and a permanent size increase of the arm but if managed well it's okay. Life's good."

Topics:  cancer illness

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