New treatments help Breast Cancer survivors with Lymphedema

By Nadia Crow

Published 04/03 2014 05:19PM

Updated 04/03 2014 05:40PM

MURRAY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah)- As more women embark on double mastectomy surgery to limit their chance of breast cancer re-emerging. We learn more about the complications and now, new treatments to combat those problems. In our continued partnership with Intermountain Medical Center, we take a closer look at life after breast cancer.

From celebrity headlines to real-life decisions, actress Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy was Nancy Ehrich’s reality. After being diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 40 after her first mammogram with no family history, Ehrich decided to take an aggressive approach.

“I had a double mastectomy and at the time it had spread far enough to lymph nodes on the right side, so I lost all of those,” said breast cancer survivor Nancy Ehrich.

And even though she beat cancer, it left a lasting mark.

“When lymph nodes are taken it can create somewhat of a roadblock for that lymphatic fluid and so it backs up into the affected extremity,” said Intermountain Medical Center Reconstructive Micro surgeon Dr. Robert Ferguson.

And that meant sharp pain on Ehrich’s right arm where she now wears a compression sleeve along with other complications. She had lymphatic tissue building up and then hardening on her arm. Her only relief was surgery.

“Before the surgery I couldn't see the knuckles in my hand, my arm was just solid my fingers were just huge,” said Ehrich.

Dr. Robert Ferguson used this transplant procedure. Lymph nodes from the groin area put in the affected area.

“Once the tissue is replaced in that armpit area, the scarred and radiated tissue, it replaces it as well as transforms lymph nodes and that then assists the evacuation of lymphatic tissue from that affected extremity,” said Dr. Ferguson.

And the relief was almost immediate for Ehrich. Simple tasks she can now once again do with her family.

“I can actually hold someone's hand, my 11-year-old said you are holding hand, before my fingers were so swollen I couldn't bend the finger,” said Ehrich.

Ehrich will always have lymphedema. She’ll have check-ups with Dr. Ferguson from time-to-time to check out her progress. But Dr. Ferguson says prevention is the best line of defense that may prevent other patients from such pain and surgery. If only some of the lymph nodes are removed, it decreases the chance of severe complications.

Nancy Ehrich will have her three month check-up with Dr. Ferguson in June. Click here to learn more about reconstructive surgery.

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