The study examines work experiences and quality of life for Hispanic survivors


As a cancer nurse in the US Army for more than 29 years, Elizabeth Anderson saw firsthand how chemotherapy, radiation and surgery affect the body’s lymphatic system and put breast cancer survivors at greater risk of developing lymphedema, a chronic swelling that follows can occur surgical removal, chemotherapy or radiation of lymph nodes.

Anderson is now a lymphedema therapist in San Antonio, Texas — an area with a large Hispanic population — and a postdoctoral fellow at the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. Anderson recently conducted a study to better understand how Hispanic women returned to work or made adjustments to their daily lives when treating lymphedema after breast cancer treatment. When surveying survivors about their experiences and adjustments upon returning to work, resilience was a common theme among respondents.

One example was a waitress who was unable to lift heavy trays of food with her affected arm due to swelling in one of her arms. So she started lifting the trays with her other arm, and her manager got her a small wheeled trolley to help carry the trays of food to her customers. These adjustments helped her manage her condition and continue to do the things she wanted to do in life.”

Elizabeth Anderson, Postdoctoral Fellow, Sinclair School of Nursing, University of Missouri-Columbia

Family support was another popular topic, as family members of breast cancer survivors could help at work and at home.

“One survivor was a housekeeper and started taking her niece to work. So when she was unable to complete certain tasks because of her swelling and pain, she was able to delegate those specific tasks to her niece, which allowed her to keep her job and she was very grateful for the support,” Anderson said. “Another survivor mentioned, that she was teaching her son how to clean the house because she couldn’t do it anymore.She had to learn to let go of some of those responsibilities which was a change because she had always felt proud and responsible about the things she did around the house had to do to provide for her family.”

One survivor shared her experiences of getting back to work in a family business making picture frames and engravings and certain tasks, such as typing or writing, sometimes became challenging, but her family members and lymphedema therapists were supportive.

“As lymphedema therapists, we often use compression bandages, which reduce swelling in the arms and hands, but the bandages can be quite bulky and the summer heat isn’t your friend down here in Texas,” Anderson said. “So we were able to change the way she was bandaged to expose more of her hand so she could do some of those things again. So the key message is to personalize interventions.”

Anderson has several family members, including her mother, who have been treated for breast cancer, and lymphedema is a chronic condition with no cure that can occur several years or even decades after the cancer.

“This work is personal to me as I want to contribute to the science and research that we need to do to help these survivors who develop this disease optimize their quality of life after cancer treatment,” Anderson said. “Whether it’s doctors, nurses, therapists, work colleagues and family members, we all need to do our part to support the breast cancer survivor.”

Anderson said her ultimate goal is to develop interventions and support systems that can help breast cancer survivors manage their lymphedema and continue doing what they are most passionate about.

“Advances in medical treatment have helped cancer survivors live longer, sometimes decades longer,” Anderson said. “By identifying the challenges and adaptations these women are applying to self-manage their chronic condition, we can support them every step of the way, and education will play a big part in moving forward.”

“A multiple case study of Latina breast cancer survivors returning to work with breast cancer-related lymphedema: adaptation, resilience, and quality of life” was recently published in Hispanic Healthcare International. Funding was provided by Sigma Theta Tau, the National Institutes of Health and the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. The study’s co-authors include Allison Anbari and Jane Armer of MU and Yuanlu Sun of the University of Iowa.


University of Missouri-Columbia

Magazine reference:

Anderson, E.A. et al., (2022) A multiple case study of Latina breast cancer survivors returning to work with breast cancer-related lymphedema: adaptation, resilience, and quality of life. Hispanic Health Care International.


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