Monday, July 15, 2013

Adventures of a Cancer Diva: Arm Fashion with LympheDIVAs!

Being a breast cancer patient and a fashionista simultaneously can be challenging.  The hurdles are often different than one anticipates--not just baldness, scarves and wigs--but can include the need to hide funny bumps from scar tissue, avoid irritating fabrics during radiation, minimize port exposure, and wear larger or more forgiving clothes due to weight gain from steroids, (no, not all cancer patients lose weight; in fact many breast cancer patients gain it). 

One unexpected challenge for me is lymphedema.  Lymphedema affects a variety of patients--cancer and otherwise--and many breast cancer patients develop this chronic condition at some point.  Lymphedema is swelling in the arms or legs caused by an ineffective lymphatic system.  The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and vessels throughout the body that aborbs excess fluid and filters out toxins.  The name comes from "lympha", Greek for water goddess.  (I like that--"Goddess" may be even better than "Diva", although I think one should not self-anoint as a "Goddess." )  Lymphedema is often caused by lymph node removal as part of cancer surgery or radiation to the armpit area.  In my case, when the surgeon removed the cancerous lump from my right breast, she also removed 11 lymph nodes from under my right arm, three of which also contained cancer cells.  I avoided any lymphatic symptoms for three years, and then--voila! A lightweight cashmere sweater (yes, from J. Crew) felt a little tight on my right arm, and then a new wrap bracelet (a Chan Luu that I had been lusting after and finally splurged on)
would only wrap four times around my wrist, rather than five. These fashion clues led to the medical conclusion that I had some, albeit minimal, lymphedema.  There is no established cure, although I have heard about surgery to move other functioning lymph nodes to the problem area.  I'm filing that information away for later--right now I have bigger medical fish to fry.

I was actually quite distraught when my lymphedema arose.  (No pun intended, but Big Brother (BB) totally intended a pun when he said he always thought I was  "swell".)  It does not hurt or affect my activites very much, but heat is a risk factor, so my beloved hot yoga and occasional jacuzzis are off-limits for now.  More distressing is just the fact that a body part if mine is no longer functioing as it should. 

Lymphedema can be managed through various types of lympatic massage and pumps, and most often requires wearing a compression sleeve to keep the condition from getting worse.  A sleeve can also be used prophylatically, particularly for air travel.  I had a plain old beige sleeve for prevention, and then a new one (yes, folks--they do not last forever--to be effective, a new one may be necessary every six months or so).  It was fine, but I can't say I loved it. 

And then, while looking at the website for supporters/sponsors of Living Beyond Breast Cancer's Yoga on the Steps Event, I saw the company name: LympheDIVAs.  What?? A breast cancer diva thing that I had not yet heard of?? Diva for a Diva? It was almost too good to be true. I went to their website:  and (encore voila): dozens of compression sleeves with beautiful designs--flowers and animal prints and tattoo-like, oh my! What a wonderful concept! and who would've thought of this other than another breast cancer patient/fashionista, right?
LympheDIVAs was in fact founded by Rachel Levin Troxell a young breast cancer patient who had lymphedema.  Rachel had a recurrence and passed away, tragically, at the age of 38.  Her family has continued LympheDIVAs as a tribute to Rachel's beauty, strength and confidence. 

LympheDIVAs was kind enough to provide me with a complimentary (as in free) sleeve, so I could wear it for the LBBC event and also so I could write about it on this blog.  Yay!! My first ever free blogger swag! FULL DISCLOSURE per Federal Trade Commission Guidelines: I was provided with a flowered compression sleeve by LympheDivas.  I am now writing about same sleeve. 

Conclusion/review: I love it! It feels good (very flexible, soft fabric) and looks fantastic.

 I can and do wear it for many activities: working out (when I must wear it), weight training or yoga . . .

At work,  contemplating a deep issue and trying to think of a strategy that no one has ever thought of before . . .

even out on the town!
I get many many compliments about my sleeve, eg, "(wow, that's cool!' "where did you get that?", "new fashion trend?" Even better, some people think I have my arm beautifully tattooed, which I do not, and probably will not (again, bigger fish to fry, and tattooing a lympedema'd arm is probably contraindicated.  Plus, imagine the horror of, for example a small rosebud tat looking like a man-eating flower if my lymphedema got worse and my arm swelled up hugely!).  Any-hoo, the compliments are much nicer to hear than what I heard with my  plain sleeve, eg, "tennis elbow?" "hurt yer arm"?

I love my lympheDivas sleeve and am already planning what my next one will be.  After all, flowers don't match everything, and are kindof Summery .  . . I think a new design is a must for the Fall, dont you? I'm almost tempted to get one for my healthy arm, but . . . naah.  The asymmetirical look is cool.

Thank you LympheDIVAs.  Thank you Rachel and the Levin family.

Yours in bc fashion,



  1. Your desk still looks the same as the old days with neatly organized piles with sticky notes on them. Too funny!

    All the best,

  2. Awesome blog and very helpful info! Will be passing it along to my pals who looking for compression sleeves. Thank you!

  3. Love it, Sandi! You look fabulous!

  4. Fallen leaves for Autumn, reds and golds (Redskins' colors) - but what do I know. Great blog. Of course you look fabulous - you always did/do. Peace, Don.

  5. I love the picture of you doing the handstand. It's more "badass" than "diva" -- I love it !!!

  6. This story came just in time for me as I waited one year post mastectomy to start physical therapy. During my evaluation I told the physical therapist I finally got the courage to fly to my sister's...and I was so proud of myself i remembered to use my teenage son's baseball sleeve on the plane! She almost passed out

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