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Woman finds ways to manage lymphedema

Hope is what motivated Toy McNeal to find ways to manage her lymphedema – an abnormal accumulation of lymphatic fluid (a clear fluid that travels through the lymphatic system and carries cells that help fight infections and other diseases) in a body part that causes swelling. Typically, arms or legs are affected.

After having a procedure to improve a health issue, Toy found herself dealing with a new condition as a result of surgery.

Two years ago, when Toy went to her post-surgery check up, she noticed her ankles were pretty swollen. She was soon found to have lymphedema and the swelling continued to worsen.

“From there I went slowly downhill,” Toy said. “The swelling went from my ankles, to my legs, to my thighs.”

Toy was told to seek medical help and went to a lymphedema program at a local hospital. But she knew within the first few appointments the program wasn’t for her.

“I wasn’t receiving what I needed because I wasn’t learning about my situation,” she explains.

Toy began researching her condition on the Internet. She wanted to know if certain foods affected her swelling and which types of exercise can help.

While trying to figure out her condition on her own, Toy’s lymphedema continued to progress and she had a hard time coping. The only advice she was receiving from a doctor was to eat more protein, which didn’t work to alleviate her symptoms. Toy experienced labored breathing, nausea and lethargy. It was difficult for her to get around; even walking proved to a struggle at times.

In October 2011, Toy finally reached a breaking point when she had to go to the hospital after falling out of the shower.

During her hospital stay, Toy’s IV worsened her lymphedema. Her swelling became severe from her waist down.

“I was so swollen,” Toy said. “It was frightening.”

Toy realized she had to learn to manage her condition.

“I never experienced a situation like this before,” she says. “If it’s not going away, I at least wanted to be able to manage it.”

Toy spoke with other women at her work who highly recommended Mary Free Bed’s Lymphedema Program. She wanted to know if the program could work for her, so Toy asked her doctor to refer her.

In December, she started the 3-week program and immediately learned ways to manage her lymphedema.

Toy learned massage techniques and how to wrap her legs to reduce swelling. In fact, soon after treatment her swelling went down 23% in one leg and 9% in the other.

She continues to wear compressed stockings during the day and wraps her legs at night, which now only takes her 30 minutes instead of an hour.

Toy thought the program was challenging because it was new, but the progress and knowing what to expect gave her hope.

Today, Toy is able to manage her lymphedema, and she’s transitioned back to her life.

“I felt helpless before the program,” Toy said. “My goal now is to enjoy life with lymphedema. It’s not a struggle anymore. I can live.”

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