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August 22, 2006 > You’re Never Alone in the Lymphedema Support Group

You’re Never Alone in the Lymphedema Support Group

by Washington Hospital

Lymphedema isn’t exactly a household word. Chances are, someone diagnosed with lymphedema has never heard of it and has never known anyone who has it. Even many medical professionals are not familiar with the condition. As a patient begins to understand lymphedema and enters a treatment program, a support group may be the only way to connect with other people living with lymphedema.

“The reason we have a support group is because there are a lot of people who feel like they are the only one in the world who has lymphedema,” says Tina Hammond, a lymphedema therapist at the Washington Hospital Lymphedema Clinic.

Lymph vessels normally carry excess lymphatic fluid out of the limbs and back into central circulation. Lymphatic fluid (also called “lymph”) is a clear fluid that travels through the lymphatic system removing cellular waste products, bacteria, toxins, foreign substances and excess fluids out of the body, while also carrying cells that help fight infections and other diseases. When flow through the lymphatic system is interrupted, lymphedema can develop.

Lymphedema is the abnormal accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the tissues under the skin. This can cause severe swelling anywhere in the body, but most commonly in the arms and legs. Lymphedema can occur when lymph vessels or lymph nodes fail to develop properly, or when there has been damage to the lymph system through trauma, surgery or infection. A common cause of lymphedema occurs when the lymph nodes have been destroyed or removed, usually during cancer treatment.

Lymphedema can be a painful condition that may be physically and emotionally taxing to the patient. In its extreme, lymphedema can develop into elephantitis. Treatment involves special massage techniques to redirect the lymph through alternate pathways in the body. Lymphedema patients also can wear compression garments, called sleeves or stockings, to relieve discomfort.

In the lymphedema support group, lymphedema patients and their families and friends can meet other people living with lymphedema at all stages of treatment. As Hammond puts it, they see there is “a light at the end of the tunnel” if they stick with the treatment program. The group is open to anyone who wants to learn more about lymphedema, or anyone who has lymphedema in any part of the body.

Some members of the support group view the gatherings as a community education opportunity. Support group members work together to get the public and the medical community to understand more about lymphedema. Sometimes support group members even staff booths at health fairs to spread the word.

“Lymphedema is not a very common diagnosis, but it is getting to be more common,” Hammond explains.

The Lymphedema Support Group meets from 7:30 - 9 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. During even-numbered months (February, April, June, August, October and December), it meets in the Lymphedema Clinic at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Ave., Ste. 140, Fremont. On the odd-numbered months, the same group meets at St. Rose Hospital, St. Joseph’s Pavilion, 27200 Calaroga Ave., Hayward. Call (510) 795-2058 for more information.

Washington Hospital offers many support programs for patients, family members and caregivers of people who are dealing with a wide variety of health and medical challenges. The Health Connection line is available to anyone who needs information about local health services and resources. You can reach Health Connection at (800) 963-7070 or visit the Washington Hospital web site, and click on the “800-963-7070” phone icon on the homepage for more details.

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