Breast Cancer Survivor Defends Federal Lymphedema Legislation

SAN ANTONIO – All it took was a stab, slicing through the vegetables she was holding in her hand.

The next morning, Cynthia Orrwho is a successful criminal defense attorney, said her arm exploded at the waist of her leg.

To put it lightly, “It really wasn’t a good thing,” Orr said.

Orr had developed lymphedema nine years after her battle with breast cancer.

Dr. Brian Frickeher specialist, said lymphedema is a chronic disease that is a very common complication, often a long-term side effect of breast cancer.

“It’s arm swelling because the plumbing in the arm is affected during surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments,” Fricke said.

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Fricke is also director of oncology rehabilitation at the hospital. Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. He said the lymphatic system is the “first line of defense against any kind of infection”.

In Orr’s case, he said the cut on his hand was the kind of severe soft-tissue infection that his arm’s “plumbing” couldn’t sustain.

Lymph nodes from his stomach had to be transplanted into his arm to restore the necessary circulation to his lymphatic system.

Orr said it was “a medical miracle” that Fricke and his team were able to repair his tiny vessels.

“They’re so small you can’t imagine anyone operating on them,” Orr said.

Orr said she wants more breast cancer survivors to benefit from advances in lymphedema treatment, from early detection to surgery and chronic disease management.

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She said her arm was much less swollen but needed plastic surgery to tighten the loose skin that remained.

“It’s just exciting to see progress,” Orr said.

Still, Orr said she was also aware that other breast cancer survivors weren’t so lucky because they didn’t have insurance or were on Medicaid or Medicare.

None, Fricke said, pay for compression garments and other essential supplies to put continuous pressure on the arm to manage the condition.

Without the treatments she receives, Orr said living with lymphedema is not only extremely uncomfortable and painful, but “it can lead to other infections – sepsis, other cancers, and death.”

Although there is some help through the Live Today FoundationOrr is now defending the Lymphedema Treatment Act at extend coverage to more breast cancer survivors with lymphedema.

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Orr had a resolution passed by the American Bar Association.

Her efforts were recognized by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden during a recent visit to Mays Cancer Center, and she lobbied members of Congress, urging the bipartisan Lymphedema Treatment Act to become law.

Orr said, “I’m shouting it from the rooftops and pushing it as hard as I can because it’s so badly needed.”

Fricke said Orr is “truly a force to be reckoned with”.

“If anyone’s going to do something that big, it’s her,” Fricke said.

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