Related stories: Restoring the body, renewing the spirit
As tough as the news of the stage III breast cancer was in 2006 for Valorie Ott, a busy wife and mother to three daughters, there was more in store.
After having both breasts and 30 lymph nodes removed and completing rigorous chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Ott heard another diagnosis. She’d learned about this one through extensive breast cancer research. And when she read about it, she feared it. Now, she faced it.
She had lymphedema, a permanent condition that causes the arms or legs to swell, discolor from poor circulation and become immobile and prone to infection.
Once diagnosed, Ott had aggressive daily decongestive therapy near her home in Oxford, Miss., including special massage to drain the blocked lymphatic fluid. Therapy also included wearing a 2-inch-thick wrap on her left arm from her knuckles to her shoulder. She could only remove the unwieldy sleeve one hour a day.
Ott had the extensive therapy twice a year for six weeks for three years, but, in 2010, her condition started to decline.
She read that David Chang, M.D., professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery, was doing a new procedure to relieve lymphedema symptoms. It was also about this time that Ott was talking to Melissa Crosby, M.D., associate professor in the department, about breast reconstruction. Together, the three agreed she was a good candidate to have both surgeries.
After Crosby completed the reconstruction, Chang performed six vessel bypasses on Ott.
“Dr. Chang made ‘exits’ where my lymph system had a traffic jam,” Ott says. “He relieved the ‘traffic congestion’ in my arm that was debilitating for so many years.”
Ott saw and felt immediate improvement with her arm’s blood flow, movement and color. A week later, she saw her elbow for the first time in four years. Today, she can see the bone and muscle definition, and she’s back swimming.
“I know this isn’t a cure, and that I’ll have to manage my lymphedema for the rest of my life, but the surgery made it manageable for me,” she says.