I have been seeing a physical therapist also trained in lymphedema prevention (lymph/edema, simply, is swelling in the lymph system, just below the skin). Once a week, she works on me, emptying the nodes and teaching me how to do the work myself. Every morning, I attempt to repeat her instruction, dutifully running my hands over the channels, emptying the nodes, and then emptying the lymph under my arms like Mary Catherine Gallagher (Move on, Dad, don’t google it. There’s nothing to see here.). Every evening, I repeat the actions, and many times during the day, whenever I remember, or when the swelling reminds me. I am desparately trying to avoid the onset of lymphedema now, during perhaps the most fragile time for my body, as it heals from surgery and starts radiation.
The physical therapy also is helping me retrain my shoulder, which has suffered so much this year with carrying the weight of my tumor around. It actually has some long-term damage that the physical therapist and I are working to reverse. It’s a wonderful goal, and an amazing possibility, but it’s also a pain in the
ass side. She helps me stretch, and each day I try to not scream in anger push it a little further. It’s getting better, but it’s not a lot of fun.
Of course, most things in life aren’t fun. We’re priviliged to have so much fun in our lives these days, in the beginning of this new century. So much time for leisure, compared to our ancestors. But that’s a rant for another day.
The thing I like best about going to my physical therapist is her proximity to Bread and Chocolate. Bread and Chocolate, my outside-the-beltway friends, is simply delicious quick cafe eats. Yummy sandwiches, salads, and a fine array of to-go pastries dipped in chocolate to tempt you on your way out. It’s not so unusual in a large city, perhaps, but I do enjoy it. And we DON’T have one close to me.
So last week when I got to my appointment early, I walked over to pick up chocolate croissants and a chocolate-dipped palmier to take home to the folks as a thank-you for babysitting while WhyDaddy and I were at the PT. I couldn’t resist nibbling on the palmier on the walk back, and the feeling of sheer delight came over me.
There I was, strolling through the city on a brisk winter afternoon, as if I didn’t have a care in the world.
The air was clear and cold. The sky, bluer than it deserved to be. The sidewalks were just about empty in the mid-afternoon lull, and the city just felt … fresh. Or maybe that was just in comparison with the dank metro cars that brought me there. Whatever it was, I felt spring-y. As I nibbled on the pastry, chocolate side first, I couldn’t help but smile.
And then I noticed it. People were smiling back. When they saw me, for once in such a long time, they weren’t seeing a cancer patient, weak from chemo and struggling to walk from car to hospital. They weren’t seeing a mom unable to chase her kids or carry her baby. They weren’t seeing my flaws at all. (Oh, we women! How often we think that others only see our flaws!) What do I think they saw instead?
I think they saw my chocolate, or maybe the chocolate on my lips, and the smile that it tried to cover, and the laughter that I just couldn’t keep inside me anymore.
I was free. Free to walk down the street alone, nibbling on a pastry, walking to meet my husband and have a physical therapy session that would help improve my life and regain my strength.
It was lovely.
And the physical therapy session? Not that bad. For on my third visit, the stretching and popping and realignment was kept to a minimum, in favor of lymph redirection, a very massage-like activity. I closed my eyes, imagined myself in a very calm healing yoga session, maybe a yoga nidra, and began to relax as the therapist drained my swollen arm, and WhyDaddy massaged my feet, just for good measure.
We walked out of there whistling.
And then we ate one of the chocolate croissants, in a gleeful rush, like college freshmen standing over a care package, trying not to spill telltale crumbs on the sidewalk.