Aasma Day finds out how a dance class at a Lancashire hospice is improving life for people living with the health condition lymphoedema
Feather boas and sparkly top hats are the magical ingredients in an exercise dance class held at St Catherine’s Hospice in Lostock Hall, near Preston.
And with a stereo playing a soundtrack covering everything from marimba rhythms to Britney Spears and the Bee Gees, the sessions are fun as well as full of health benefits.
The Lebed sessions are delivered by the hospice’s lymphoedema nurse Julie Norris.
Lymphoedema is a condition which causes swelling because the lymphatic system can’t drain the body’s waste fluid properly.
It was designed by American dancer Sherry Lebed with the input of her two brothers – both doctors – after she developed lymphoedema herself.
Sherry’s problems came about following treatment for breast cancer, although the Woodside Clinic at St Catherine’s Hospice works with both cancer and non-cancer related patients, including those who may have developed lymphoedema through trauma such as an accident or infection or because of hereditary factors.
The emphasis of the clinic’s approach is on education, advice and self-management to help people live better and more independently with the condition, as well as treatment using the latest state-of-the-art technology.
Lebed is another tool in their treatment and is a fun and sociable activity easily adapted to many different levels which include movements and stretches designed to help aid and boost the lymphatic system.
Julie, who was a dance teacher for 10 years before qualifying as a nurse, has run several six-week courses at St Catherine’s over the past three years.
A recent taster session proved a hit again, with another planned to take place in September during National Lymphoedema Awareness Week which runs this year from September 15 to 19 when the Woodside Clinic will be holding a special open day.
This is set to be followed by a full six-week course during the autumn for suitable Woodside Clinic patients who would like to take part.
Julie explains: “The whole programme is designed around emulating the lymphatic system with the aim of relieving the swelling and discomfort the condition often causes.
“Sherry’s dancing background, put together with her brothers’ medical expertise, has produced a form of exercise which is fun to take part in, but which also produces real results.
“The movements are very transferable too. I had one lady on a course who heard a song from a class on the radio when she was putting the washing away at home. Next thing she was doing Lebed in her bedroom, using balled up socks instead pom poms!”
From the warm up when people are invited to stroll around the room blowing bubbles – an exercise designed to open the lymphatics and aid relaxation – to a hula section of flowing sways and twirls with floral garlands, the session is very varied.
There is even a burlesque-inspired routine featuring feather boas and hip shimmies while another section with glittery poms poms adds to the upbeat atmosphere.
Frances Wignall, 66, who has lymphoedema in her leg after undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy for ovarian cancer two years ago, enjoyed her first experience of Lebed.
Frances, who lives in Hoghton, near Preston, says: “I had always been very active before I became ill. I had my own horse and loved going riding and to a regular Zumba class, so I’ve been desperate for something like this to take part in.
“The session was great – just what I needed. It went at the right pace for me and it was good fun. I’m looking forward to trying it again.”
David Hughes, from Clayton-le-Woods, near Chorley, was flying the flag for the men. He urged other men who are offered the opportunity to take it up and not be put off.
David, 69, who developed lymphoedema after treatment for malignant melanomas on his leg, chest and spine, said: “I thought it was brilliant!
“I’d always enjoyed running and when I couldn’t do that anymore because of an ankle injury I bought a rowing machine, but I’ve been advised not to do that for two years either following my surgery.
“This is some form of exercise I know I can do safely.
“I love the social side too. I’ve always worked with people and am very much a ‘people person’ so it’s been great to come to something and enjoy it with others.”
Maya Williams from Chorley attended a Lebed course at St Catherine’s Hospice in the past. She has lymphoedema in her leg following treatment for cervical cancer nine years ago when she was just 27.
She says: “I didn’t develop lymphoedema straight away. It came on about three or four years later.
“The team at the Woodside have been fantastic in helping me manage the condition in various ways, including Lebed.
“I do a lot of swimming and cycling now too, which is combined with a sports massage I have every other week. As well as the physical benefits of taking part in a class like Lebed, there’s also that feeling of being with like-minded people and knowing you’re not on your own.
“Living with a condition like this can be quite isolating.”
Sylvia Parkinson, 68, from Penwortham, near Preston, developed lymphoedema underneath her arm following a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
She says: “A class like this is something to look forward to. My husband died recently so getting out and being with others means even more.
“As soon as I stop still and rest, I find the aches get worse so it would be great if Lebed could help with managing some of the symptoms of the condition.”
“The nurses at The Woodside have been so helpful – they always have time to listen and have been a great source of support.”
Lymphoedema nurse Julie says she is looking forward to sharing Lebed with more people in the coming months.
She says: “I love teaching the classes. It is nice to use skills from my previous career to help people in this way.
“All of our work at the Woodside is focused on promoting independence. It is very rewarding knowing you are helping people gain control back over their condition.”