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What is Lymphedema

According to the American Cancer Society’s website, “Lymphedema is a build-up of lymph fluid in the fatty tissues just under the skin. It usually develops slowly over time. The swelling can range from mild to severe. It can start soon after surgery or radiation treatment. But it can also begin months or even many years later.Women who have many lymph nodes removed and women who have had radiation therapy to the breast and/or underarm area may have a higher risk of getting lymphedema.

Symptoms

  • Symptoms of lymphedema include but are not limited to:
  • Swelling
  • Reduced energy
  • Loss of mobility
  • Fatigue
  • A burning feeling
  • Tight skin
  • Itching
  • Swelling of the fingers or the arm area
  • Soreness in a joint or joints
  • Thickening of the skin, inability to sleep,
  • Loss and thinning of hair
  • Irritability

Any concerns for your body should never be ignored and this is certainly the situation with lymphedema. Sometimes a misunderstood symptom can lead to more severe problems, thus be aware of your body.

Caring for Lymphedema

  • Do not ignore the symptoms.
  • Seek professional help from qualified and experienced experts to diagnose and treat lymphedema.
  • Do not invite problems—your lymphatic system has been compromised if you have had surgery or radiation. Nurture and love your body even more.
  • Do not wear tight fitting or restraining clothing.
  • Remind the medical staffs that blood pressure monitoring, drawing blood, IV lines, and acupuncture should be avoided to the affected arm.
  • Listen to your intuition and the wisdom of your body.
  • Keep optimum body weight.
  • Take preventative measures against infections and rashes.
  • Use care when doing household chores and gardening—gloves are highly recommended.
  • Use electric razors instead of razor shaving.
  • Use proper skin and nail hygiene.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures.
  • Ask your medical profession how air travel may affect your condition.
  • Seek only qualified massage therapists professionally trained to care for the special massage needs of breast cancer and lymphedema.
  • Use prayer, meditation, and guided imagery to release compressed emotions of resentment and constricting anxieties. Envision your body releasing emotional and physical toxins and for your body to be rejuvenated.
  • Keep salt to a minimum.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Engage in remedial exercises such as walking and that include gentle range of motion exercises for your affected area.
  • When you need compression products, seek qualified and caring manufacturers and sellers.

Lymphedema is a build-up of lymph fluid in the fatty tissues just under the skin. It usually develops slowly over time.

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About Cassandra

Cassandra “Cassie” Dowtin is a physical therapist. She earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 1993.  Ms. Dowtin has more than 25 years of clinical experience across the continuum of physical therapy settings, including acute rehabilitation, assisted living, long term care, acute care, outpatient orthopedics and school based physical therapy. 

Cassie specializes in treating clients with lymphedema or issues due to breast cancer.  She achieved her training in Complete Decongestive Physiotherapy through the Academy of Lymphatic Studies in 1998.  She has successfully developed, coordinated and implemented a lymphedema management program in two separate regional healthcare systems and has lectured at local and national levels on the topic of lymphedema treatment and exercise after cancer. 

Cassie recognizes the role of the breast cancer survivor in effective lymphedema management and remains focused on creating patient education materials that are easily understood by the clients to maximize compliance. 

She recognizes the importance of a team approach to lymphedema care. To advance the goal of an effective intra-disciplinary team approach, Ms. Dowtin provides lectures at several regional physical therapy programs to increase the exposure that future PT and PTA students have regarding effective management of lymphedema. 

Cassie has created and shared a lecture series with national PTA Program Directors; the comprehensive lecture module allows for easier inclusion of lymphedema content in physical therapist assistant education. She has served as a clinical instructor for both PT and PTA students for over twenty years. In addition to her clinical practice, she also participates in community education, serving as a guest speaker for the YMCA LiveStrong cancer exercise program and for GPS cancer recovery groups.

Cassie created an exercise program that focuses on improving outcomes for breast cancer survivors. The “ABC Class:” After Breast Cancer Exercise and Education Class” since 2000, empowering survivors to safely improve their flexibility and strength, and decrease risk for infection or lymphedema. 

She is a faithful wife to Brian Dowtin, a doctoral student at NCA&T for computer science. They have four children; two daughters in high school, one son recently graduated high school, and their eldest son is finishing his computer science bachelor’s degree at NC State. They reside in Greensboro, NC with their two dogs.

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Lymphedema Resources