BUFORD - Breast cancer survivor Sheila White is no stranger to dealing with pain. In 2004, when doctors performed a lumpectomy to remove the cancer, they also removed 12 lymph nodes from her underarms.
Although not a fan of pain medication, she said, after surgery White felt constant pain in her chest area and under her arms.
Her hardest challenge was getting her doctors to listen. At each doctor's appointment, she made the same complaints but the doctors kept telling her to "give it a year, and it will feel better."
"I kept getting worse and worse," White said. "No one was telling me what was wrong, and I thought it was the way I would feel for the rest of my life."
White visited a pain specialist and took various prescription pain medicines that helped the pain, but had undesirable side effects, she said. In efforts to find a solution to her chronic pain she was referred to Gwinnett Medical Center sports rehab.
After months of pain, she was diagnosed with lymphedema, a condition where fluid accumulates in her lymph nodes, which caused swelling in White's chest area and arms.
"The liquid becomes stagnant under the arms," White said. "It feels like your skin is going to burst - it's a very heavy feeling."
Her doctor prescribed massage therapy for her condition, and, in time, White began seeing results.
"I've improved 90 percent of what I was," she said. "I was taking Neurontin (a pain medication) three times a day, and now I'm down to one a day, and I plan on coming off of that."
The massage therapist manually loosens the stagnant fluid in the lymph nodes and stimulates drainage.
"It's very painful. Mine was mostly in my chest and under my arm," White said.
Daily therapy sessions generally last 45 to 60 minutes, and during the session her therapist concentrates on the lymph nodes that don't drain well located beneath her skin, White said.
In addition to wearing a tight compression sleeve on her arms and hands prevent fluid from pooling, White plans to continue her lymphedema massage therapy and live as free from medication as she can, despite her chronic pain.
"I fought it and fought it to not take (prescription pain medication)," White said. "I felt the pain was winning, but now I'm in control. I'm controlling the pain."