Little black box packs a pink punch for breast cancer patients
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Tue., May. 10, 2011
The big hit of the day at William W. Backus Hospital’s annual Pink Fair wasn’t pink at all. Instead, it was a smallish black device about the size of a hatbox.
The device, called an L-Dex, will pack a powerful punch for women who have had lymph nodes removed during surgery for breast cancer, potentially sparing them one of the treatment’s most disfiguring and debilitating side effects.
Breast cancer survivors clad in fluffy pink boas attending the May 5 Pink Fair, a women’s health expo, also helped cut a ribbon for the hospital’s Breast Health Patient Navigator program’s new digs, which houses the L-Dex.
Mary Bylone, RN, interim chief nurse, said that the device screens mastectomy patients for lymphedema, a condition in which lymph fluid collects in the arm near the surgery site, causing swelling. While some patients are unaffected, “for others it can be incapacitating,” Bylone said. An arm can swell to twice or triple its normal size, making normal activities impossible, Bylone added.
Once the condition is established, little can be done to treat it, said Jim O’Day, Ph. D., vice-president of business administration at Backus. “Once the horse is out of the barn, it doesn’t ever go away,” he said.
The L-Dex takes baseline measurements prior to surgery and then can be used at three-month increments to check for lymphedema symptoms, said Bylone.
At the first sign of potential trouble, compression and physical therapy treatments can begin to nip the disease in the bud, said O’Day.
Joyce Kuusela, RN, who works in the Patient Navigator program, proudly cut the ribbon to the unit’s new home, wearing a pink boa of her own. “I know what [breast cancer patients] are going through,” she said. “I have a lot more empathy now.” The program helps women who receive suspicious mammogram results work through the process of treatment and recovery.
Downstairs, the Pink Fair presented offerings from the hospital and its partners in women’s health. Tables laden with brochures on nutrition and medical weight loss, diagnostic imagery, the stroke center, palliative care and others offered pink-themed giveaways ranging from nutrition wheels to measuring spoons to flower seeds. Screenings for blood pressure and bone density were also offered.
At one end of the room, members of the hospital’s multifaceted therapy staff held forth. While massage therapist Renee Hughes helped another staffer relax with a massage, harpist Sarah McKee played soothing music, as she does weekly at Backus’ same-day surgery suite.
The music has an astonishing effect on patients and staff alike, said McKee. “More than one husband has said, ‘My wife would be a basket case if it wasn’t for the harp,’” she said.
“You think it’s for the patient, but Backus… knows it’s for the staff, too,” she added. The calming environment reduces rushing around and gives the staff a way to relieve stress without leaving the floor, she said.
Another Backus therapy staffer sat on his hind legs and demonstrated how to shake hands in exchange for a dog treat. Maxwell, a dog who has his own staff tag, visits the hospital regularly with his owner and handler, Carol Majewski. She said Maxwell is one of five therapy dogs at Backus, specially trained to interact calmly and affectionately with patients.