“…having a cute compression sleeve to put on meant that women would actually wear their garments and thus see reduced incidences of swelling”
In 2005 Rachel Levin Troxell was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and underwent aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatment which left her with lymphedema. Rachel’s physician recommended that she wear a compression sleeve as a way to manage her swelling, but being a vibrant 37 year old, Rachel felt defeated over having to wear a thick, hot and beige compression sleeve every day. Being a triathlete, Rachel knew that comfortable and breathable compression garments existed, she shared her frustrations with her therapist, Dr. Cheville, and was told that if she didn’t like the compression garment options then she should “do something about it!” And she did just that! It was then that she met another young breast cancer survivor, Robin Miller, who shared the same frustrations over the lack of a more comfortable and attractive compression garment option.
In 2006, Rachel and Robin met with a fashion designer and set out on a mission to create a comfortable and fashionable compression garment that women (and men) would feel good about wearing. Little did they know that their actions would completely revolutionize the compression garment industry. Rachel and Robin’s work with LympheDIVAs has lead to sweeping industry-wide change! Compression giants, putting out the same beige, thick and hot sleeves for decades, seeing the garments offered by LympheDIVAs, suddenly started to offer more color choices and started to take the comfort factor of garments for patients into consideration.
Despite receiving a diagnosis of metastatic cancer in April 2007, Rachel continued to run LympheDIVAs with great enthusiasm. “She lived every day as if it was a gift – with energy and determination,” said her father, Dr. Howard A. Levin. Rachel didn’t want to be defined by her disease, so when we remember Rachel today, we think about all the people whose lives she has touched and improved and the lives of people LympheDIVAs continues to improve each and every day. Rachel died January 22, 2008, at the age of 37. Her determination and compassion to improve the lives of breast cancer survivors is very much ingrained in the spirit of LympheDIVAs.
Today, LympheDIVAs’ products can be found in retail locations nationwide and internationally. At Rachel’s request, her father Dr. Howard Levin and her mother, Judy Levin took over the responsibility of running the company which their daughter helped found. In August of 2010, Rachel’s little brother, Josh Levin, joined the company and is now running it with his parents. They all hope that LympheDIVAs’ compression apparel will continue to inspire breast cancer survivors everywhere to feel as beautiful, strong and confident as Rachel was.
Physical and Emotional Toll of Lymphedema After Breast Cancer
During breast cancer treatment a patient is at risk for lymphedema, a sometimes painful chronic swelling. The diagnostic procedures which contribute to lymphedema risk are when a sentinel node is removed (sentinel lymph node biopsy), a number of nodes are removed (axillary lymph node dissection), or if the nodes receive radiation therapy. It is still largely unknown why some patients get lymphedema treatment and others do not, but the risk of lymphedema after treatment extends beyond 25 years and can occur at any time. Since no cure exists for lymphedema, and it is uncertain when the disease may develop, doctors largely focus on mitigating risk factors that can lead to lymphedema when managing the disease in patients.
The risk factors for lymphedema can be put into two categories: any event which stimulates the formation of increased protein fluid such as an infection, trauma or sunburn and any event which slows the flow of lymph fluid such as a tourniquet(for example – having blood pressure taken with a cuff). As you can imagine, this leads to a long list of activities which breast cancer survivors and those living with metastatic disease may need to avoid in order to reduce their occurrence of lymphedema. This list includes reducing the risk of infection by having shots and blood drawn in the non-affected arm, or thigh, if both arms are affected, keeping the arm cool, avoiding burns and elevated temperatures of any kind including hot tubs and saunas, avoiding tourniquets by not having blood pressure taken from the affected arm(s) and being mindful of any shoulder straps or bags which may be cutting off lymphatic circulation. Having this burden of a list takes a huge emotional toll on many patients that are still trying to deal with the emotional toll of being diagnosed with and battling cancer, especially when it’s not clear how much anything on that list will affect them individually.
“Our founder, Rachel, didn’t want to feel like a patient”
Our founder, Rachel, didn’t want to feel like a patient. For her, cancer was an internal battle, but lymphedema was something that people would see and wonder about. When she was wearing those original, hot, beige and thick compression garments people would ask her “what’s wrong with your arm?”, “what happened?”, “did it hurt?”, “when can you get that off?” or “when will it go away?” All these questions kindled a lot of negative thoughts about her cancer and lymphedema. And even though Rachel took those question as a way to educate others about lymphedema, having to be reminded of her disease made Rachel feel like a patient every day and stifled her healing.
When Rachel developed LympheDIVAs garments, she wanted compression garments to be perceived as a funky fashion statement and not a medical device. When women wear LympheDIVAs garments they often get approached with curiosity not sympathy. People ask about their “tattoos” (not realizing that it’s actually a compression sleeve!) or about where they can get a sleeve like that (not realizing that it’s actually to manage a medical disease). This aspect of our garments helps patients heal on the inside and outside. It helps them feel in control of their disease and doesn’t remind them of everything they’ve been through up to that point. And of course, having a cute compression sleeve to put on meant that women would actually wear their garments and thus see reduced incidences of swelling.