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Lymphedema - James Keen

James Keen will tell you flat out - he owns the fourth floor of Community Hospital. No one actually owns the Rehabilitation Services department, of course, but Keen has spent just about enough time there to call it his own.

It all started with the discovery and subsequent removal of a melanoma from his left foot, followed by a biopsy of the sentinel or target lymph nodes in the groin, which revealed microscopic incursion of the cancer. Enough for doctors to go back in and take out 17 more lymph nodes.

Ironically, perhaps, it wasn't the healing of the "half-tennis-ball-sized crater" left behind in his foot that gave him trouble. That, with patience and good care, has filled in far more than Keen anticipated, leaving a scar about the size of a silver dollar.

But the ill-fitting splint he wore on his foot after surgery at a Bay Area hospital produced an ulcer in his left leg. And once it became infected, he spent a week at Community Hospital working with wound-care specialists Barbara Dangerfield and Stephanie Ruskell to resolve the problem. Only then was he able to proceed with the cancer surgery scheduled to remove those 17 lymph nodes.

Following surgery, Keen returned to wound-care therapy to finish the healing process. At the same time, he began working with therapists to mitigate the lymphedema (or swelling) of his left leg.

"Lymphedema is a nuisance," says Keen. "But they handled it with massage therapy and by prescribing a full compression garment for both legs; it's actually very tight pantyhose whose pressure gets the fluid out of my tissue.

"When first told I would have to wear this garment, I asked the therapist how long. She said I had to wear it during the day but could take it off at night. I said, 'I think you misunderstood me.' And she said, 'How about the rest of your life?' I said, 'I think I can handle that.'"

Today, Keen feels fortunate that he's been able to resume most of his favorite activities. He has yet to get back to golf, but he believes he will. In the meantime, he has taken up lawn bowling. After retiring from dynamic careers in financial marketing and advertising, he returned to teaching, a field for which he was trained in college.

On his recent 77th birthday, Keen spent the day teaching third grade. The next day, high school English. "I've had 700 gigs so far," he says, "and I'll teach anything, everything. Well, anything but math."

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