The effects of an axillary lymph node clearance

It has now been 4 weeks since my last operation where I had my lymph nodes removed from under my arm. This feels like a good time to summarise the effects of the procedure and the impact on daily activities. I would say that the first 2 weeks were the hardest as the progress of my recovery seemed very slow and the movement of my left arm was severely restricted. This led to me needing a lot of help with daily tasks, even simple things like picking things up, and closing doors. I tried my best to do the post surgery exercises but I found them very painful and difficult to begin with. I would often forget that my range of movement was limited until I tried to use my arm, at which point I would get a painful reminder! Who would have thought that throwing something in the bin could hurt so much! Those of you who share my love of ice hockey will understand what I mean when I say there was no chance of me putting my hands up in the air, nor swaying side to side to Sweet Caroline. I managed to develop my own one-handed version so that I could still join in with the pre-game build up.

During weeks 2 to 4 of my recovery, I noticed much faster improvement. I was able to carry out the more advanced exercises and this really helped to increase the movement of my arm. This meant I could start to carry out more jobs around the house and do activities that I enjoy, such as playing the keyboard. I still experienced pain when I tried to overdo things but there was a definite improvement. The other side effects which were still noticeable and continue to affect me now include that my shoulder gets cold very easily – slight problem at the ice hockey. In addition, I have daily occurrences of pins and needles in my hand and my upper arm is partly numb, yet painful in places. The worst thing is that I have got some cording.

Cording is exactly what is sounds like, in that it looks like you have cords under your skin. These visible ‘cords’ have appeared under my arm  and on my inner arm below my elbow. The photo below shows the cording under my arm. It is thought cording is caused by lymphatic fluid having solidified. It feels like tight elastic bands which cannot be stretched. It is also quite painful when I try to stretch my arm. I was told by one of the breast care nurses that daily exercises in conjunction with anti-inflammatories should improve these symptoms. Failing that, there is the option of massage therapy which I will look into if necessary.

So, life is taking on a new normal again following Christmas and New year. I am reading a lot (including Dutch magazines which family and friends have kindly given me), playing the keyboard, writing and trying to go for regular walks. I also have regular visits and messages from family and friends which is lovely and keeps my spirits up. I do find I am tired very quickly and often need to sleep during the day. My other ‘hobby’ at the moment is preparing myself for chemotherapy, but that’s for another blog post.

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