Dawn Oswald, COTA

Hi, my name is Dawn Oswald, 49 years old, and I am a 10-year breast cancer survivor and I have lymphedema (LE). I have been suffering for 6 years with lymphedema. I had stage 2 breast cancer. After receiving chemotherapy and radiation, my physician put me on an estrogen-decreasing medicine for 10 years instead of the 5 years recommended. Taking it for 10 years decreases the chances of the cancer recurring even more than with the 5-year protocol. I told my physician that I would continue paying for the medicine as my life is worth more than the ten dollars per month cost. I have been taking this medicine for the last 9.5 years.

I just had my annual mammogram. It saddens me to tell you that my cancer has come back. It is the same cancer I had 10 years ago. The mammogram found the small lump in my same breast. It is stage 1.

Thank God I got my mammogram done and I thank the physicians who read the test and performed a biopsy. Ten years ago I had a lumpectomy as I was only 39 and wanted to keep my breast. Now ten years later, I do not have a choice. I have to have double mastectomy and possibly repeat chemotherapy.

No worries though; do not cry for me. I have beaten cancer once before and I will beat it again. I have my family, friends, and co-workers for support.

For my lymphedema, I use Tactile Medical’s Flexitouch and it helps my arm a lot. I also wear a Tribute Night Garment by Solaris at night. I use a compression sleeve every day.

I found out the hard way that some compression garments contain latex. I was fitted for a new arm sleeve and shortly after wearing it, my arm swelled. I threw the arm sleeve away and that is when I saw the tag on the inside of the sleeve that said the garment contained rubber (i.e., latex). The individual who fitted me for the sleeve did not ask about latex allergy and was not aware of my allergy. My arm was swollen for about 2 weeks and it was painful.

I do have pain every day in my arm, but I do not let it stop me. It’s important to stay vigilant – find out what makes the LE worse and limit or avoid doing those things. Asking for help is difficult but very necessary for me to manage my lymphedema.

I find it helpful to take rest breaks – sometimes for an entire day or more. I find my arm swells badly when I do too much at one time, like cleaning the entire house prior to my daughter’s first baby shower. Sometimes, though, my arm swells for no apparent reason.

I’ve learned to be careful when I shave my underarms or legs. I had a bout of cellulitis apparently from a small cut in my arm pit from shaving. Also, I’m cautious about hang nails, manicures, scratches and mosquito bites. I ended up in the hospital with the cellulitis.

What really makes my arm swell is doing dishes (just joking!). Seriously, I cannot scrub pots and pans – I leave those for the hubby. My husband also cleans and does laundry. I’ve learned not to do too much in one day; I’ve found most things can wait.

I’ve heard that individuals with lymphedema should not get into a hot tub; I have a hot tub and I go in it, I just leave my arm out of the water. My LE has been stable for the last 2 years, except for the swelling due to the latex allergy.

I am a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant and I know how to keep an eye on my arm. I measure my arm almost every day to check for edema. There are days when I don’t feel good and there are days I think I can do everything. I exercise regularly and don’t think I do too much, but often my husband does. He worries too much. If I overdo it, my arm will let me know – it hurts.

I am currently planning to run the Susan Komen 5K this weekend in San Antonio. I am celebrating 10-years cancer free. That sounds funny: 10-years cancer free, when now I am not. I was not going to celebrate because I have cancer again. My friends reminded me that I was cancer free for 10 years so I should celebrate. So, I am celebrating this milestone. I am sad, angry, and very upset that the cancer came back, but I was cancer free for ten years.

I am blessed and trust that I will continue to be blessed. I have faith, love, and courage. I am not alone. I have God, my husband, family, and friends. I am what my parents made me today: strong, loving, and stubborn and I thank them for that. My husband reminds me every day I am beautiful. He is my rock.

I hope I can help someone with my story. My advice is not to let cancer or lymphedema take you down. Life is too short, and life is full of precious moments. Enjoy every day!

Dawn Oswald, COTA
San Antonio, Texas