My Story: Bernadette McCourt

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and during chemotherapy I developed lymphoedema in my right arm.  Initially, I was able to avail of occasional manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) at a local Cancer Support Centre, I also went privately to a local MLD therapist for more regular treatment. I exercise my arm on a daily basis and I am thorough in carrying out the skin care protection as recommended.

Unfortunately, in 2010, the Cancer Support Centre closed and this relatively free treatment was no longer available to me. Apart from the manual lymph drainage I received there, I missed the huge encouragement and support I received from the staff at this centre.  Since then I have had to cover the total cost of my treatment and to my utter disappointment, I was refused any benefit for this treatment from my Health Insurance, because my Therapist, who is a fully qualified Manual Lymph Drainage Therapist, is not a Physiotherapist.

“The resistance programme, namely the weight lifting, has helped to reduce the swelling in my arm & for the first time since getting lymphoedema, I feel that I may be better able to manage this condition.”

I have been very frustrated and worried by the lack of services available to me over the past few years. However, in 2012 I started a Physical Activity Programme with the Irish Cancer Society. This consisted of 16 weeks of walking and resistance training (weight lifting) under strict supervision by their Exercise Specialist. The resistance programme, namely the weight lifting, has helped to reduce the swelling in my arm and for the first time since getting lymphoedema, I feel that I may be better able to manage this condition. The enthusiasm and encouragement I received from the Exercise Specialist at the Irish Cancer Society has given me a more positive outlook and a desire to continue training when the programme concludes.

Six months later, I am still exercising as per the programme set out by the Exercise Specialist at the Irish Cancer Society, namely walking for about 3 to 4 hours a week and doing my weights twice weekly. This routine has now become part of my life and I do feel the benefits, my arm is softer and I feel stronger.  Also I hope that I will not need to go for the MLD as often next year and this will be a financial saving.

I know I will always have lymphoedema in my right arm but if I could easily access treatment and didn’t have so many obstacles to overcome, my condition would be less of a worry to me. I hope, in time, research studies will prove that resistance training helps to prevent and reduce lymphoedema and that the programme, now in its pilot stage with the Irish Cancer Society, can be rolled out throughout the country.

Update:I received an email recently from Marie Murphy, the Fitness Specialist at ICS. The ICS are not running a new Physical Activity Programme at the moment. However the programme has progressed to the second phase in the ICS submission for a European Clinical Study. Grant awards will be announced in early April.  I was disappointed to hear that they are not running a new programme for new participants at this time as I really felt the programme helped me no end. However, hopefully they will be successful in their grant submission and more people will be able to avail of this wonderful programme.