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Living with Lymphedema: Shirley Melancon’s Journey

  • Category: Patient Stories
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  • Written By: Rhonda Alfred
Living with Lymphedema: Shirley Melancon’s Journey

Shirley Melancon began her journey with Terrebonne General | Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center during her fight against breast cancer in 2018. After her diagnosis, she immediately began her treatment plan with a lumpectomy in January to remove cancerous tissue. 

Once recovered from her surgery, Shirley went through 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation therapy. She rang the bell signaling the end of her treatment in September 2018. Shirley was then ready to begin her post‐cancer journey and return to her hobbies of crafting and spending time with her two granddaughters.

Five months later, in February 2019, Shirley noticed swelling in her right hand. When the swelling grew and eventually spread to her arm, she was diagnosed with lymphedema. “My doctors monitored the swelling and I thought it would eventually go away, but it never did,” Shirley said. “It was a little concerning at first, but I knew the team at Mary Bird Perkins would help me.”

Lymphedema is swelling caused by fluids accumulating in lymph nodes, usually in a specific area like the arms or legs. Lymph nodes work to filter infections and move fluids throughout the body. When they are damaged, it can cause fluid accumulation.

Cancer patients, like Shirley, are susceptible to developing lymphedema after treatments and surgeries. Shirley had 13 lymph nodes removed during her lumpectomy, compromising her lymphatic system.

Shirley says she was unfamiliar with lymphedema before receiving her diagnosis.

Partners In Care: Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center | Terrebonne General Health System

Terrebonne General | Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center provides comprehensive cancer care to meet each patient’s individual needs. During and after cancer treatment, support and wellness services ensure continued care.

Shirley was referred to Reshelle Jones, occupational therapist at Terrebonne General Health System. Reshelle has worked with lymphedema patients for over seven years. She helps patients reduce swelling and pain and teaches them how to address and live with lymphedema.

“It’s a lifelong condition,” Reshelle says. “Patients will have to manage it over time. By receiving treatment, they are getting the education and resources they need to have the best possible outcome and improve their quality of life.”

During therapy appointments, Reshelle provides information and talks with patients on living with lymphedema. She also guides them through exercises to promote fluid draining in the lymphatic system which help alleviate the swelling. Reshelle also teaches the patients how to perform the exercises at home on their own or with help from a loved one.

Along with therapy, patients may receive recommendations to be fitted for a compression garment or be set up with an at‐home compression pump to help control fluid levels.

Shirley’s lymphedema is manageable and does not impact her day‐to‐day life. “It doesn’t stop me from doing anything,” she says. 

Look for the Signs of Lymphedema

Reshelle says normal swelling can occur after cancer treatment or procedures, and it’s important to monitor for signs of lymphedema. Symptoms include persistent swelling pain in limbs or other parts of the body; hard tissue under the skin; dry skin or other changes in skin texture or color.

As a resource for Cancer Center patients, Reshelle feels it is important for her to be a part of the treatment process as soon as possible. She says the partnership between Terrebonne General and Mary Bird Perkins provides patients with comprehensive care that places patients at the center of everything.

“Lymphedema is manageable, but it’s important to identify it earlier on for the best outcome,” Reshelle says. “Keep up with regular visits and check‐ups. Talk to your doctors about changes you notice. I am here to support every patient who needs me, and I want to be part of your care team.”

Shirley is grateful for the care and knowledge she received from Reshelle and team members in all areas during her journey.

“I think I had the best treatment ever at the Cancer Center,” Shirley says. “Everybody was absolutely compassionate and helpful. I wouldn’t change anything.”

Visit to learn more about wellness resources available at Terrebonne General | Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center and call (985) 876‐9045 to schedule an appointment.