We’re all different, but for those of us living with any type of lymphedema, we usually share one thing: a desire to try everything that’s out there.
That attitude to always be looking for potential solutions is smart. I’ve been there myself. However, I consider myself very, very fortunate since I have been able to, so far, successfully minimize my lymphedema with Chinese herbs.
When I first was diagnosed with lymphedema, it was very mild, but it started progressing. That freaked me out. The thought of anything hampering me from living the life I want was not something I could accept. The good news is I went into experimental mode…I vowed to myself I would try everything I could think of now, before it got too much worse.
And try I did. I did juice fasts, acupuncture, tried many individual herbs and supplements, laser treatments, foam rollers, various types of massage.
Eventually, somewhere very far back in a google search, I found a Chinese medicine doctor who claimed he had learned from his mother, who had lymphedema, how to fix it with Chinese medicine. He seemed very sincere and knowledgeable about it. He was a two hour drive away from me so I scheduled an appointment. He was convincing in person, however, I was still very, very skeptical. Because, as we know, western medicine tells us this condition is “irreversible and progressive”. But I didn’t want to accept that fate, so I felt I owed it to myself to try everything. So I tried this too.
The treatment involved taking large quantities of many Chinese herbs that were in individual packets. I took these every morning and evening. Then every two weeks I did a one hour Tui Na massage (form of Chinese massage designed to break up blockages formed by scar tissue).
It took a long 4 months of treatment before I saw any change at all. The sensation of liquid in my leg, however, started to lessen, which I found interesting. But then one morning I awoke and the swelling in my left leg (the problem leg) had dropped noticeably. Over the next several weeks, it kept gradually dropping. Soon, the compression stockings were loose. I no longer needed them–they weren’t doing anything!
That moment was huge. I was living in a very hot climate and now I could wear shorts again! Plus I didn’t have to rush to elevate my legs after exercising, plus I didn’t have to worry about anything. I was getting my old life back.
I continued taking the herbs for a few more months, then things plateaued, but the swelling was barely noticeable at that point. So I stopped for two years. After that, I felt the swelling start to return one day (after a yoga class–came on very suddenly again). But the swelling no longer went away overnight. Again, panic. So I started Chinese herbs again with a different TCM doctor (for a variety of reasons, a bit of a long story), but thankfully, the swelling responded quickly. Within about six weeks it was back to my (new) normal. Huge relief.
Is my lymphedema gone? No. But it is so mild that I don’t notice it. Some days if I sit at a desk a lot, my leg swells, but it will go back to normal overnight. That is totally different than it was previously. It would not resolve overnight and I had to wear compression from the time I woke up, elevate within 20 minutes after exercise (or else), do daily self-massage, dry brushing, and more elevation, and that was just to keep it from advancing. The only time it would drop is after the three days of MLD therapy, but it would come back as soon as I sat in a car for a couple hours.
So, to me it is a miracle. But I don’t see many people trying this (that’s why I started this blog!). I do see many people trying surgery right off the bat.
What’s wrong with that approach?
Recently, big strides are happening in surgery for lymphedema. I actually am quite impressed, as it appears many people are starting to get great results. That is very exciting and I’m relieved this is available, should I (and all of us that suffer from this condition) ever need it.
But, there’s one critical thing to keep in mind. Surgery is not, ever, ever….a magic bullet. Surgery is very, very difficult on your entire body. There will be side effects. And there’s not even a guarantee it will work.
And, if you talk to any surgeon or anesthesiologist (or read the forms you need to sign before surgery), you’ll learn that side effects from any type of surgery can be life-changing.
Why Not Try Safer Things First?
Any surgeon will tell you to try more conservative methods first. The problem is there’s not much information on conservative methods that work for lymphedema. Chinese medicine is one I’m aware of. Maybe there are others that work, I hope they exist, but have not found them.
I’ve created this blog to help share this information and learn more from others. Now that I’ve created this blog I’ve heard from more people who are trying it and getting results. I have yet to hear of someone who didn’t get results, which I think is noteworthy. But hopefully people will come back and comment so we can all share information, as we need it.
Chinese medicine is natural and low-risk, as long as you do some screening of providers. You’re simply taking herbs so other than an allergic reaction or risk of contamination, the risks are very low.
And it’s not usually expensive, either, especially when compared to surgery. The cost is usually something around $200 to $400 per month, and you may have to do it for anywhere from 2 to 12 months.
Given your health is at stake, it seems like it would be wise to try this route before trying surgery.
You can always try surgery after, if it doesn’t work.
That’s my plan anyway. For now, the Chinese herbs have worked wonderfully and make me able to live a normal life, without compression.
Want to learn more? Here’s a blog to help you get started, or there are more on this site documenting my experiences. If you try it, PLEASE come back and comment–anonymously is fine–on what did and did not work for you. If we aggregate our experiences we can all learn more.