T-Shirt Wisdom

By: Lesley Ronson Brown

So, one day about two years ago, I was shopping and tried on a new t-shirt and noticed the left sleeve seemed tighter than the right one.  And I thought, “How strange, this shirt isn’t made very well.” And that’s where my thinking stopped.  If I had let myself think it through and looked beyond the immediate situation, I might have thought, “Hmm….How strange, why isn’t this shirt fitting me correctly?  Is it just some weird sizing by the manufacturer?  Did I gain weight?”  And maybe, finally, “What’s up with my arm?”

Even though I’m a yoga teacher and very much in touch with my body, I am also a woman who never thought I could possibly get lymphedema.  But to put it more honestly, I’m a woman who didn’t want to think about getting lymphedema, the disease that compromises lymphatic fluid flow, and causes swelling.

Yes, I had 17 lymph nodes removed in one arm and 7 on the other. Yes, I’d been given the pamphlets about lymphedema.  Yes, I’d been told to wear an arm sleeve when I flew.  But lymphedema just wasn’t at the top of mind for me.  I wasn’t going to think about it!

So what did I do? At first, after the t-shirt alert, I did nothing. But soon I began to notice that on my left arm, the triceps seemed a little bigger than on my right one. I could see the difference when I was doing an overhead press with weights I thought it was because I had been a waitress and carried my tray with my left arm, which worked my biceps more, making my triceps weaker. This made sense to me, so I wasn’t alarmed. I tried to strengthen the triceps more, but it didn’t make a difference.

Then one day, something happened that did alarm me.  While attending a yoga conference, I had a Thai massage.  I knew it was different from a regular massage, but didn’t quite know how.  After the first few minutes, I found out.  The practitioner put her body weight on me, pressing down substantially.  When she bent my left elbow and pressed down, I felt a “pop!” on the inside of my lower left arm.  It hurt a bit, so I asked her to stop and just do my lower body.  I had her finish early.  I told her my arm felt strange, and had gotten hard, and she said that this popping or hardening situation had never happened with other clients and suggested I put ice on it.  I do not think she did anything wrong. There is nothing inherently wrong with Thai massage.  But it was wrong for me. Unfortunately, I had exposed my arm to trauma, one of the things we are warned about after lymph node surgery.

I visited my primary physician to get an x-ray, but she said not much would show up, because a bone wasn’t involved in the mild discomfort I was experiencing.  Neither she nor I were thinking lymphedema.  It wasn’t at the top of either of our minds. Keep it elevated, use more ice and come back if it got worse, she advised.

My arm remained slightly swollen and still hard, and one day, a friend who also had been on a breast cancer journey, asked if I thought I might have lymphedema.  I stared at her, horrified, and thought, “Blankety-blank, maybe I do have lymphedema.”  I went to a lymphedema physical therapist, who then confirmed that I indeed had lymphedema.  And she and I have become good friends over the past two years.

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  1. Awesome blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.

    Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?

    There are so many choices out there that I’m totally confused ..
    Any recommendations? Thanks a lot!


    • Thank you for visiting our blog. Congrats on starting your own blog too. Yes, definitely start with free and see where you go. If it feels right then you can move up and pick something a bit more robust. WordPress is good. Check them all and see what resonants with you. peace.


  2. Hi Lesley. Thank you for sharing your story. I work for LympheDIVAs, the manufacturer of the sleeve that your model is wearing. I hope you won’t mind, but could you please change the tag in the picture to “LympheDIVAs Onyx Sleeve”

    I also noticed your model wearing the sleeve in another picture on another topic. A credit there would be great too. Thank you so much!! No rush.


  3. helensamia says:

    I have Lymphoedema in my left leg after treatment for Uterine cancer.. mine came up almost straight away but it can occur years later…… so if nodes are removed care must be taken of that arm or leg….


    • Lesley Ronson Brown says:

      Helen is absolutely correct. Lymphedema can occur anywhere, but it is usually near the area affected from where the lymph nodes were removed. Staying alert to changes is your best line of defense. Being alert doesn’t mean you will avoid lymphedema, but dealing with it as early as possible, by getting professional help, is the first step in managing it.


  4. Lesley Ronson Brown says:

    Hi Sue–It was close to 2 years. I had 7 nodes removed on my left side, which is where my lymphedema is located. But, I had 17 nodes removed on my right side in 2006 and that side has been just fine. Unfortunately, we just never know if lymphedema might happen, and we often don’t know the exact cause. Current thinking is that the longer you go without incurring lymphedema, the less the chance of it occurring. But that is not always the case. However, we do know that the more we can keep our arm at a low risk for lymphedema, the better off we will be. That means being careful with abrasions or cuts, sunburns, anything that can irritate the arm. Like carrying a 15 pound purse! Or, in my case, getting a Thai massage which put a great deal of pressure on my arm. There is no absolute proof that the massage caused my lymphedema, but I believe it certainly contributed to it. Thai massage is a wonderful practice for many people, but I would caution those of us at risk for lymphedema. Get a foot massage instead!


  5. How much time was between the node removal and the onset of lymphodema?


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