For so long, I longed for everything to "just go back to normal."
I wanted my life back the way it was before the cancer. Things were going so well -- work was humming, parenting was clicking, Joe and I were thinking of adding to our family... And then the cancer diagnosis came and suddenly, in a flash, a year was taken from us. Some things froze in place, other things were set back. Some things may have been striped from the horizon forever.
My 1-year "cancerversary" is coming up in one month, and the light at the end of the tunnel is almost dazzling. Six weeks past my last radiation treatment, my brain is clearing. My skin has already peeled & is healed again. The mobility of my left arm is all but where it was prior to the mastectomy.
Everything is normal again. Sorta.
There is a post-cancer cliche I keep hearing: "New normal."
In some ways I welcome the new normal, and in some ways I want the old normal. The new normal includes an eyes-wide open feeling, a thankful-to-be-alive feeling, but also way too many on-going doctor appointments.
And compression garments. (I'll get to that in a sec.)
Things will get in a good rhythm with work, preschool, exercise & writing and then suddenly I have to spend a huge chunk of time at a doctor's office, surrounded by other patients who look... well, sick. Wheel-chair bound, bald, pale, tired... The club no one asks to join.
Last week I added in a new doctor: The occupational therapist in the Lymphedema Management Center.
It seems when it comes to lymphedema, cancer is the gift that keeps on giving. What is it? Swelling & pain caused by the removal of lymph nodes and complicated by radiation therapy. In my case, I had 13 nodes removed from my left arm pit during my mastectomy. That means 13 fewer nodes in the lymphatic system to manage the waste fluid in my body. As the OT nurse put it, "Thirteen garbage trucks were taken off duty in your waste management program."
That means there is a risk of painful fluid build-up now or tomorrow. Or, thirty years from now. It never goes away, and can crop up any time. (More on the lymphatic system here.)
So I'm in the clinic to find out how to avoid it, and how to manage the light swelling I'm experiencing now. The short answer is that I must wear a compression sleeve when I exercise or travel to high altitudes. I must wear a compression insert in my bra as well. I should take up swimming (think: full-body compression). And I'll never wear my wedding ring on my left hand again.
Don't mistake me: I'm grateful lymphedema isn't simply a given & that I can learn tricks to combat it/manage it. It is just one more way that my life is forever changed.
Check out this cool interview I did back in December with Parenting With Cancer!