Lymphedema occurs when the lymphatic system becomes disrupted or malfunctions in some way and the lymphatic fluid stops flowing, resulting in unsightly swelling, pain and even life-threatening infection.
There are two types of lymphedema: Primary lymphedema, which is rare, is caused by the absence of certain lymph vessels at birth or genetic abnormalities in the lymphatic vessels. Secondary lymphedema, or acquired lymphedema, develops as a result of surgery, radiation or trauma where the lymph nodes are removed or damaged.
Cancer surgeries are the main culprits of secondary lymphedema because they typically also involve the
removal of lymph nodes. The most common surgeries are breast, melanoma, gynecological, prostate, bladder and colon surgery. The insidious thing is that secondary lymphedema can develop at any timedays, weeks, months or even years later. One woman was diagnosed nine years after her mastectomy when her arm swelled up during an airplane flight (a fairly common trigger for the onset of lymphedema).
How many people suffer from lymphedema? It is difficult to say because many of the cases are never diagnosed accurately and some are often not reported at all. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate that 100 million men, women and children around the world suffer from this condition. In the United States alone, at least three million Americans are affected. Another statistic released in 2006 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states there are presently about 10 million cancer survivors in the U.S. It is estimated that between 20-40 percent of these survivors will develop lymphedema at some time in their lives. What that means is that there are currently three million cases of lymphedema in our country caused by cancer treatment alone.
A NEW THERAPY
In 1979, Sherry Lebed Davis mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and, after surgery, fell into a state of depression and inactivity. Lebed Davis and her two brothers, both physicians, decided to intervene. Based on Lebed Davis experience as a professional dancer and teacher for 15 years, and her brothers medical expertise, they developed The Lebed Method which focused on regaining and maintaining range of motion, balance and frozen shoulder syndrome.
In 1996 Lebed Davis herself was diagnosed with breast cancer and in 1999 developed secondary lymphedema. As a result, several new exercises were added to the Lebed program to specifically address the lymphatic system to help reduce swelling and encourage drainage. Thus, The Lebed Method: Focus on Healing Through Movement and Dance was born.
Currently, the Lebed exercise program is offered at more than 450 hospitals, cancer centers, fitness centers and community centers around the world. And not just breast cancer survivors and lymphedema sufferers are finding it helpful. Those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Parkinsons disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and arthritis are also claiming benefits.
In Traverse City, occupational therapist and newly-certified Lebed instructor Sharon Studinger will inaugurate the areas first Lebed Method movement and dance program at Munson Community Health Center, 550 Munson Avenue. Classes will run every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., October 29 through December 3, 2008. The first six-week session is free to all participants. After that, the eight-week class will cost $120.
The movements are slow and smooth and set to up-beat music from the sixties through the nineties, Studinger said. The class is completely designed for those with little or no dance experience. Everyone will find their pace.
Benefits of the Lebed program have been most recently documented by the Cancer Nursing journal, in which the program was shown to have a significant positive effect on the psychological well-being and quality of life of the participants, as well as increased range of shoulder motion.
Besides the positive effects of exercise, participants find camaraderie and a support group of others who have the same challenges, Studinger said. Class members are encouraged to stay after class and talk.
If interested in The Lebed Method Focus on Healing Through Movement and Dance class, call Studinger at