Over the weekend, I had lunch with my friend Mel, author of the Cancer Warrior blog (TheCancerWarrior.blogspot.com). We both talked about some of our sports and interests (she plays hockey & I’m busy windsurfing since I’m out in Michigan on vacation). Mel commented that with all of my high-intensity activities, I’m very lucky to have not developed lymphedema. So, since I’ve been writing about lymphedema in my last couple of posts, I thought I’d continue.
Lymphedema is a very real concern for anyone who’s lymph system has been compromised by illness, surgery, or treatment. It is a life-long risk, and there is no cure. Noticed early, it can be managed. But it can become a life-altering, disabling condition.
It is not to be taken lightly!
I acknowledge the risk and have always taken it seriously. But I refuse to have my life controlled by the fear.
From the beginning I decided to take control as much as I could. I educated myself about lymphedema. I read and I talked with my doctors. I sought out lymphedema specialists to talk with. And with all of the information I gathered, I came up with a plan of action.
Once I had regained good range of motion, I began strengthening my weakened muscles. Following the advice of people who knew more than me, I began with very light weights. Actually, I started with no weights, doing slow exercises using only the weight of my arms. As I gained strength, I added weight a little at a time.
I also monitored my arm for early signs of swelling. I periodically measured my arm in several places.
I made slow, incremental progress. Over the course of many months I built up enough strength to begin thinking about taking up some of my upper body-intensive activities. I got back to windsurfing and eventually rock climbing.
After a couple of brief bouts of minor swelling (which were managed with some self-massage, some exercises to stimulate the lymph system, and keeping my arm elevated), I got fitted for a compression sleeve and glove (mine is from Jobst). I found I didn’t need to wear them all the time, only as a precaution with certain activities.
I’ve heard women complain about how they look or feel. I don’t understand the reluctance to wear a compression garment if it allows you to do things you enjoy. Personally, I am less concerned with making a fashion statement than with what I can do. And a well-fitted garment is not prohibitively uncomfortable. I would much rather wear it occasionally and still be able to do the activities I love.
And, of course, this risk of lymphedema is ongoing. I never forget about it. If I have taken some time off and gotten a little out of shape (yes, it happens), I go back to lighter weights again. I start off easy and build slowly.
So, yes I’ve been lucky. I’m strong and have not been debilitated by lymphedema. But I’ve also been aware, cautious, and prepared.