Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Lebed Method

People who haven't had breast cancer assume that most of the physical trauma associated with the disease relates to our breasts. But those of us who have been there know that our arms and shoulders can be adversely affected by breast surgery, lymph node removal, and radiation treatment. Lymphedema can be a side effect, as can frozen shoulder. And many of us experience chronic tightness that can limit our range of motion.

So far, I've been lucky enough to avoid lymphedema, but I've already had frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) on my right side, following a lumpectomy, sentinel node biopsy, and radiation. Not long after recovering from the frozen shoulder, I was diagnosed with a new primary breast cancer in my left breast, followed by a sentinel node biopsy on that side and a bilateral mastectomy. Now I'm hoping to avoid frozen shoulder and other arm and shoulder issues on my left side.

I've learned that the more limber I can keep my arms and shoulders, the better. And I've found a terrific way to do just that—with the Lebed Method, a therapeutic exercise program designed for women with lymphedema. It turns out that the same slow careful stretches that help open up the lymph drainage system also provide the ideal exercise for me.

The Lebed program was developed by Sherry Lebed Davis, a former dancer and teacher, along with her brother, Dr. Marc Lebed. About nine months ago, I purchased their dvd, which features Sherry Lebed Davis, who herself developed lymphedema after treatment for breast cancer, leading participants in a routine that's designed to gently stretch your body, get you moving, and improve balance.

The Lebed Method combines beneficial movement with a healthy dose of silliness. The participants start by blowing bubbles. It's not just for fun, though. Apparently, the way we breathe when we blow bubbles helps open up our lymph channels. Confession: I don't use real bubbles, I just pretend. That's one of the advantages to exercising in my own family room—no one else is looking. Another advantage is that I can take off my breast forms and enjoy the freedom of going flat while exercising.

The dvd isn't totally polished and the participants look like regular people. That's part of its charm. But its main appeal is how stretched and limber I feel when I'm done. These exercises don't provide any real aerobic benefits, however. For that, I walk every day. But for stretching muscles tightened by radiation and surgery, the Lebed Method provides reliable relief without strain.

If you're interested in learning more about the Lebed Method, which is also known as Healthy Steps, you can check out their website—http://www.lebedmethod.com/. In addition to the dvd, live classes are offered in some locales.

By the way, I have absolutely no connection to this exercise program and have never met Sherry Lebed Davis. But the exercises are so gentle yet effective that I wanted to share the information with you.