March is Lymphedema Awareness Month. The National Lymphedema Network is celebrating 29 years of the month, dedicated to those who have been an inspiration in the lymphedema community.
The condition occurs when the normal drainage of the lymphatic system is disrupted. Cancer survivors commonly suffer from secondary lymphedema as a result of surgery or radiation therapy. Overall function of the lymphatic system is less efficient.
More than one in five women who survive breast cancer will develop lymphedema, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Up to 40 percent of cancer patients who undergo surgery involving lymph nodes may develop the disease. While most lymphedema occurs within the first two years after treatment, it can occur years later.
To manage the condition, most patients undergo therapy and must wear elastic compression garments including sleeves, gloves and stockings not typically covered by insurance. Each piece can cost over $100, and many patients are unable to afford this important part of their therapy.
A local organization, Living with Lymphedema, is the brainchild of Terri Baldasare, a longtime lymphedema sufferer. While receiving treatment for the condition, she was disheartened to learn that so many cancer survivors could not afford compression garments.
Baldasare teamed up with Linda Barney, M.D., to assist other members of the community.
Barney is an associate professor of surgery and associate program director of the general surgery residency program at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. Barney is chair of Living with Lymphedema.
To raise awareness and help those suffering with complications from lymphedema, Living with Lymphedema is organizing the seventh annual Bocce for Lymphedema Tournament on Saturday, June 2, at Sons of Italy John Pirelli Lodge, 2625 County Line Road, Kettering, Ohio 45429.
Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m., and tournament play begins at 8 a.m. A $6 spaghetti lunch is from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
There is a raffle drawing for more than 25 prizes. Everyone is welcome to participate in the lunch and raffle. Bocce will be played rain or shine.
“The bocce tournament is our largest event of the year. While having a great time, we raise money and educate people about lymphedema,” said Janet Zak, who is organizing the event alongside Baldasare and Barney. “I am involved because of Terri and the rest of our team. Every single penny earned is used for compression garments.”
Because of the great need and a lack of resources, the group is trying to bridge the gap. Compression garments need to be replaced every six months, which can be a financial hardship for those with lymphedema. “While we never lose hope, lymphedema is currently a lifelong disease,” Zak said.