LYMPHEDEMA OF THE NECK AFTER RADIATION TREATMENT
In November 2018, my husband was diagnosed with throat Cancer and underwent a gruelling round of treatment - Chemotherapy followed by 30 rounds of Radio therapy and another Chemo in the middle. From being a fit 60 something man he disintegrated into half the man he was - almost literally as he lost more than 4 stone. It’s a story many of us are familiar with and I don’t want to dwell but what happened afterwards I feel I need to share as it was a game changer for us.
When his treatment was over we were excited - ‘let the healing begin’ was our motto but he got weaker and weaker because he could not eat, continued to loose weight rapidly and the skin around his neck which I prided myself in having kept in good condition, literally dropped off like snake skin leaving gaping, damp and sometimes bleeding holes. It was alarming but we knew it would pass and it did. He started to get better and was told the treatment had been a success. A speech therapist in passing mentioned that he would most likely develop Lymphedema of the neck as the lymph nodes there had been completely destroyed by the radiotherapy. Fine we thought - a small price to pay. We didn’t really know what Lymphedema was anyway but as most people know someone who has had breast Cancer, a lot of you will know that it is swelling that generally occurs after treatment and is most commonly caused by the removal of, or damage to, your lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. Sure enough, one morning my husbands neck swelled up like a balloon. Luckily we had already attended an appointment with the Lymphedema Nurse as there had been a little swelling already and she had given us a soft collar for him to wear at night, instructions on how to massage it to drain the area as best we could and a lengthy book. She also told us that it was something he would have to live with. This was an ok scenario for the slight swelling but the way it grew, was not a keeper.
On the first night of the ‘big swell’ we put the soft collar on him. The next morning his neck was indeed a little smaller but his face was enormous. He looked like a chipmunk. We sat in bed all morning researching Lymphedema of the neck as a result of Throat Cancer Treatment. Hundreds of pictures of mostly men looking just like my husband showed in the search. He has never been a vain man but this extreme facial swelling knocked his confidence hard. Some American sites offered instruction on massage - specifically lymphatic drainage that cost a fortune. I had learnt to perform lymphatic drainage many years ago but I had never had to tackle anything as extreme as this. A lot of what looked like burglars masks were popping up on the search to compress the swelling - so we bought one. It was pretty scary looking but we gave it a go. The next morning his neck and face had gone down but his eyes were sticking out like a frogs as if he had gone ten rounds in a boxing ring. After less than an hour the full swelling always came right back with a vengeance. We had been through so much that we were not at our strongest to deal with this but I was determined that we were going to fix it.
I dredged up all that I knew about lymphatic drainage. The issue is that with no lymph nodes in his neck it seemed impossible to drain the fluid with massage. It was like a blocked tunnel and the skin on his neck was so delicate that I hardly dare touch it for fear of it breaking. You have to massage the nodes below the affected ones to kind of warn them that they need to help and whereas in the ‘beauty’ form of massage you stroke the skin in an upwards motion - to drain the lymph from the neck and face, you have to stroke downwards - I say stroke and not massage as I cannot over emphasise how gentle I needed to be to ensure I wouldn’t damage his skin.
At visits to the hospital during this time his Doctor made light of the extreme swelling saying after all he had come through it was something not to worry about. We couldn’t let it go - I had to find a way to get him looking and feeling good again. Enter, our daughter who is a blogger www.megantaylor.london
. She was given a wonderful little facial massage tool from holisticsilk.com
“I don’t want to part with this lovely little thing Mum
” she said “ but I think you need it for Dad
” It was a little roller with one end larger than the other. Perfect! A way to massage without dragging his delicate skin at all.
I used Angelico Serum for Sensitive Skin
which contains chamomile
, a beautiful, gentle oil which soothes and nourishes the skin, as well as yarrow
, lavender, calendula
, vitamin e
and many other natural oils that are perfect for delicate skin. I warmed a little in my hands and applied it to his face, neck, chest and back. I did this with him lying on his back in front of me on the bed, with his head between my legs so to speak. Sounds dodgy I know but I really need to tell you how to do this in case even one person reading this needs to do it too. I placed a towel under his head and back to protect the bed linen. So, once I had covered all those areas with the serum I set to work with the roller. Using the wider end I worked across his chest in a downwards motion towards the lymph nodes under his arms, I then worked down the tops of his arms. He then sat up and I did the same on his back, including the back of his neck. Once lying down again I very gently used the roller over his neck using the smaller end. The scar tissue on his neck made it all lumpy and bumpy so the small end of the roller allowed me into the crevices which helped to smooth them out. I then worked all over his face, forehead, cheeks, sides of the nose, top of the lips, under his mouth ending with the ears which I used my hands for.
The interesting thing about this massage is that, in line with advice from the Lymphedema Nurse, I started at the chest and worked up. This is because you have to warn and prepare the lymph nodes to work in place of the ones that are no longer in the neck. It’s like squeezing a toothpaste tube from the open end - totally counter intuitive but it really works. The next day it was a little better so encouraged I did it every night before he went to sleep. After about a week it was so much better and the very act of doing something so productive and loving was good for both of us so I carried on. I can honestly say that it has now gone completely. Remember? We were told that he had to live with it. He would never have had the courage to go back to work or socialise if we had just ‘lived with it!’ Maybe eventually but certainly not for a long while. Well we didn’t and if you are having a similar problem I really urge you to do the same. I am happy to answer any questions if you need help :)
When we next saw his Doctor, he asked us how we had got rid of the Lymphedema. My husband said it was down to nightly massage with a Beauty Roller and a Serum that I had made. He looked at us with a grin and suggested that everyone should have that same treatment - I don’t think it is coming any time soon on the NHS though!! Just one more thing - I did this massage every night for about two months - long after the condition was resolved but frankly, I was afraid to stop. Life then took over and we gradually did stop. You will be pleased to hear there is still no swelling.