A pilot study of 10 women with post breast cancer lymphedema reported concern over the betrayal of their body, abandonment of medicine (unsympathetic doctors, limited knowledge or conflicting information provided), concealing an imperfect body image through inadequate clothing or elastic sleeves, and managing the interruption of a normal flow of life.
A lot of us can relate to the above quote perhaps a little more than we would like to. Having lymphedema can be so disruptive to your life that sometimes you can’t help but get bogged down by it. That’s the nature of a chronic condition – some days you have it under control, and other days you’re completely overwhelmed.
When you’re feeling down, it’s easy to engage in harmful or negative coping mechanisms, such as denial or substance abuse. It feels much easier to not deal with the issue rather than to confront it, let alone acknowledge that it exists. These routes are unhealthy and can potentially harm you in the long run – something I’m sure I don’t need to tell you!
So how do you cope?
How to Deal
- Talk to somebody. Talking to someone else – especially a fellow lymphie who can understand where you’re coming from – can be very soothing. Pull your friend aside and say, “Hey, can I borrow your ear for a minute? I just need to vent” and let loose! Scream, yell, cry, weep – whatever! Once you get it all out, exhale deeply, and move on.
- Focus on the positives. As cheesy as this sounds, it still holds true. Taking a minute to list the positive things in your life can help you regain perspective and see that – hey! – life isn’t so bad. Sure, you’ve got lymphedema. But you also have a caring family, or a really loving dog, or beautiful weather. Write a list of your Top 5 positive things, and keep it in your pocket so you can pull it out when things get tough.
- Be active. Move! Do something! You don’t necessarily have to jump around doing cartwheels or run a marathon, but just taking a walk around your block can really boost your mood. If you sit like a lump on the sofa, you’re going to be a lump on the sofa. Move around, get your blood flowing! You’ll feel so much happier afterward.
- Pet an animal.Petting your dog or cat can calm you immensely. When I was an inpatient for my eating disorder, one of the highlights of my week was when the therapy dogs would visit. Something about happy, tail-wagging dogs are just so nonjudgmental and loving that I couldn’t help but smile when they were around. If you don’t have a pet, visit a friend who does!
- Volunteer. Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help other people. Get out in your community and get involved! When I was discharged from the hospital and began recovery, one of the first things I did was sign up as a volunteer at the local animal shelter. I absolutely loved it. Now, I volunteer once a week at a local elementary school (which I also love!). I never considered myself the volunteering type but it’s so rewarding and can be extremely fun! Plus, it feels great to do for others.
What about you? What do you do to cope with your lymphedema? Share your stories in the comments below!