On the last episode of The Bachelorette in May, Cameron “Cam” Ayala told Hannah Brown that he has a medical condition that he must deal with every day: lymphedema.
“This is not an easy conversation for me to have, but back in the year 2014, I was getting off work and all of a sudden my right leg locked up on me… They had to rush me to the hospital,” he told Hannah after taking her aside to talk. “Essentially they told me I had to get an amputation. Life really tried to beat me down.” He finish by saying he, “didn’t wanna go into tonight’s rose ceremony without being fully transparent” with Hannah.
For those of us (like me) who do not watch this show, the guys left standing without a rose at the end of an episode have been “voted off” the show.
Lymphedema is an abnormal collection of lymph fluid in the tissues of one or more body regions. Globally, lymphedema usually involves the lower extremity (90%). Upper extremity accounts for 10% of global cases with genitalia <1%.
The most common form of primary lymphedema occurs in approximately 1:100,000 people. In the developed world, breast cancer treatment is the most common inciting event for secondary lymphedema.
Cam was diagnosed with primary lymphedema (right leg) when he was 12 years old, according to an Instagram post from December 2018. He had 13 surgeries over a four-year period after having that flare-up in 2014.
Although secondary lymphedema is associated with breast cancer, there are other triggering events (for men and women):
Treatment for cancers of the head/neck, breast, bladder or kidney, liver or pancreas, parts of the digestive system — really, any cancer treatment in which lymph nodes are removed or the flow of lymphatic fluid has been damaged or blocked.
Tips for managing lymphedema
Talk to your health care team if you think you have new swelling in an arm or leg, if a ring suddenly doesn’t fit or a pair of shoes suddenly fits one foot but not the other.
Manage your risk or manage your disease by following these tips:
- Avoid foods with lots of preservatives or any artificial sweeteners. These chemicals add an extra load onto your lymphatic system.
- Avoid salty foods. Consuming too much salt causes our body to retain fluid and increase swelling. There are no research-based guidelines. Watch to see how your body responds to salty foods and avoid if it causes swelling.
- Do not allow blood to be drawn from the affected arm. Neither should you have your blood pressure taken from this arm.
- Exercise/stretch regularly. Muscle contraction, skin movement and the pulsing of arteries and veins stimulate the lymphatic system. Talk with a certified lymphedema specialist before beginning exercise. Limit the amount time spent sitting. Take breaks away from your computer.
- Get plenty of sleep (7-9 hours). Our lymphatic system is most active when sleeping. New research highlights the importance for our brain.
- Manage stress! Cortisol, the stress hormone, inhibits the lymphatic system from doing its job.
- Practice deep breathing, with a slow exhale. This helping to keep the lymph system moving, even when you are sitting.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water (more than you think is enough, probably) and limit caffeinated beverages.
- Take care of your skin on the affected limb. Wear gloves when gardening and cooking. Cut toe nails straight and don’t cut cuticles. Avoid needle-sticks and animal teeth/claws in the affected limb.
- Wear your compression garments!