Preventing Lymphedema

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. 


24 Responses to Preventing Lymphedema

  1. BetteJo says:

    Sounds delicious – and light – and dare I say – Care free? Just sayin.

  2. Robin says:

    I’m smiling too, just reading it.

    I think I should have a chocolate croissant today in your honor. Yeah. Definitely a good idea. (Why oh why did they open a bakery right next door…)

  3. Del KING says:

    Thank you for your fantastic post. I could imagine walking down the street enjoying the fresh air and chocolate – wonderful.

  4. sprucehillfarm says:

    Chocolate and baked goods always make everything better. I am glad you had a good day. We need one every once and a while. Keep smilin!

  5. Susan K says:

    Ah yes, chocolate. One of my desert island foods. Where would we be without it? So glad you find the sort of joy from it I know I get.

    And by the way, I have often heard it said that if, during PT sessions you don’t HATE your therapist, she isn’t doing her job. So take solace in it – you are still fighting a battle and she is your partner in it and helping you get to the point that you will be lifting those little ones with nary a thought.

  6. Oh – how wonderfully yummy those chocolate croissants sound… Somehow chocolate can make even the worst PT a little bit better. 🙂
    It was a pleasure to meet you at MommaK’s – I guess I can read and de-lurk now that we’ve met in real life! I love the way you write and you are simply wonderful in person!


  7. Lisa says:

    O.k., I officially didn’t eat enough for breakfast.
    My downfall is the Schweinoeren (Butterfly looking pastries) or the Schnecken. It’s a good thing I don’t live near the bakery, espcially a german one.
    Happy Day!

  8. Binky says:

    WhyDaddy sounds like an amazing guy to have around. The pastries don’t sound too bad, either 🙂

  9. MMMMMM, chocolate croissants. I wonder if I can think of a good reason to take a drive into the city some time soon…I don’t know of any good bakeries near me out here in the ‘burbs.

  10. Ann Ruebel says:

    Your email was so enjoyable to read and imagine your joy in the fresh air combined with your chocolate treat–I think your positive attitude is the secret to attract many new friends to help you physically and mentally get through your trial–and I’d like to be an email friend of yours–ann

  11. de-lurking to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog.

  12. Loved your reference to SNL’s Mary Catherine Gallagher. I dressed up as that character one Halloween, so I totally got it.

  13. As long as you don’t sniff your fingers afterwards, I think you’re good.

    I’m wondering if you can help….Do you have any suggestions for books for young kids (2 1/2 yr olds) to help them understand cancer in a relative (grandpa)?? Thanks in advance!

  14. KillerBoob says:

    that must’ve felt so. so. good. 🙂

  15. Stimey says:

    Chocolate=good. Happiness & hope=very, very good.

  16. ~JJ! says:

    Mmmmm chocolate. Helps me too.


  17. Angela says:

    I can see everybody loved the chocolate. I used to stop at Bread and Chocolate in SE when I was at the Navy Yard during Desert Storm – nice memories.

    Missed you at yoga.

  18. “I was free.”

    No sweeter words… sweeter, even, than chocolate.

    xoxo CGF

  19. Kat says:

    Chocolate is a healer for sure…mentally and physically. I medicate myself daily and I recommend it to you too.


    (Great post!)

  20. KDF says:

    Oh, just lovely, whymommy. So glad you had a good day. 🙂

  21. Emily says:

    We see people every day and assume or think we know. But the backstories are hidden, and all we see are the smiles or the chocolate or the weight or the hair.

  22. Your description of the chocolate was, as usual, breathtaking.

    Hope you are feeling well today!

    I just wanted to pass along a link I think you and your readers would love – it’s from the New York Times Well blog and it’s about journaling and its beneficial effects on cancer patients. See:

    Of course, I couldn’t resist leaving a comment about blogging and a link to your wonderful site!

  23. Bubba's Sis says:

    You are beautiful! Keeping you in my prayers….

  24. […] new duds While the physical therapy for lymphedema prevention  has greatly helped reduce the scarring from my mastectomy and the trouble I’m having with my […]

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