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Click to read "I love my Caregivers" by Wanda

Backpacking and Lymphedema

By trisha

Living successfully with lymphedema is a balancing act between being active without overdoing and making the condition worse. The following are the steps I took that made it possible for me to successfully go backpacking with my son's Scout troop!

When I developed lymphedema as a result of breast cancer surgery, I thought that I would not be able to backpack any more because of this condition.

As I learned more I became more confident with my ability to manage my lymphedema. As more information became available about the importance of exercise, last year I decided to go on a short, overnight trip with the troop. We hiked 7 miles the first day. My pack weighed about 25 pounds. The second day was only a few miles hike back to the truck, but it was all straight up to get out -- so it felt a little longer than it was.

I did not have any increased swelling after the trip. (I know this because I keep a measurement diary and measured several times a week.) I would like to offer some tips that I think helped me.

  • During the day I wore my knit compression garment on my affected arm.
  • I used my hiking stick to support my hand/arm to keep my arm elevated while I was hiking. (This is in contrast to   just hanging down and swinging while I walked. I think this helped a lot.
  • Ideally plan you trip for a time when the weather will be cool.
  • At no time did I really push hard enough to get overheated. I hiked at a pace that was very comfortable, even though we had quite a few big climbs. I also trained for a few weeks before going so I would not get overheated as quickly and so that I would feel strong for the hike.
  • I did not lift my pack with my afflicted right arm. I always lifted the pack up with my left arm.
  • I kept my hand and arm elevated as much as possible. When we stopped to rest, I usually kept holding my hiking stick to keep my hand and arm elevated.
  • Because it is not wise to wear a knit sleeve at night (due to the risk of having it slip and have a tourniquet effect) I asked my therapist for suggestions. Everyone's problems are different; however, her suggestion that I put my backpack next to me in my tent, and to sleep on my back with my arm elevated on the backpack worked well for me.
  • Take a first aid kit, that includes an antibiotic as a precautionary measure in case I cut or burned my affected arm. That way I could immediately start treating myself to prevent any kind of infection in my afflicted arm.

I've struggled with depression on a regular basis since I developed breast cancer and lymphedema; however, I learned that professional lymphedema treatment, education, self-management, and common sense can go a long, long way in controlling even lymphedema and making it possible to continue to hike and have fun with my son. It worked for me!

Got a question or comment? Post in the 'Living With Lymphedema' forum. Share your stories in My Stories.
Category: Living well with Lymphedema


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