I achieved a major milestone the other day: for the first time in years, I bought – and wore – a pair of SHORTS.

Shorts! My lymphie leg is my right leg (on the left in the photo).

Last week I went on a weekend trip to Sedona, Arizona, with some of my girlfriends. As I was preparing for the trip, I was faced with a common lymphie conundrum: what to wear in the hot weather. Do I eschew my insecurities and wear something weather-appropriate and comfortable, or do I hide my leg and wear pants to camouflage my swelling? I contemplated my usual approach – wearing long, flowy pants or yoga pants – but decided they wouldn’t be conducive to the extensive hiking we’d be doing. There was one other option, though, one that I have actively avoided for years…

I could wear shorts.

The thought was tempting, yet paralyzing at the same time. I hadn’t worn shorts in public in, oh, about two or three years now. I generally avoid baring my legs for fear of inviting unwanted stares or comments, innocent or otherwise. It’s just too embarrassing, too vulnerable. My swollen leg has been a source of insecurity and shame for as long as I can remember, and to hide it has been the easiest way to avoid those feelings. But no more!

I went to Target with a couple of my girlfriends and grabbed a bunch of shorts off the racks, determined to at least try them on. If I didn’t end up buying them, there was some solace in the fact that I had put them on, even for a few minutes. I sifted through my loot in the dressing room: two pairs of denim shorts, and a pair of gray athletic ones. Took a deep breath. Slid on the first pair.

The denim shorts were a no-go, just based on the fact that there were hardly any shorts to speak of. They were tiny! Swollen leg or not, there was no way I was going out in public with half my buttocks exposed. Nope – next!

The athletic shorts were a better option, by far. Comfortable and simple, they seemed the most suited to my needs that weekend of hiking and climbing rocks. But – oh! – my leg. There it was, totally exposed, totally swollen. I had second thoughts about buying the shorts, silently cursing my leg and lymphedema in general. Perhaps I’ll suffer through the heat in a pair of yoga pants after all, I thought to myself as I turned in the mirror, eyeing my leg from different angles.

But then I realized that there is no reason to be ashamed of my body, that there is nothing embarrassing or ugly about my leg. Sure, it’s a little swollen. So what? It doesn’t define me, and it sure as hell shouldn’t dictate whether or not I wear shorts or dresses when I want to. Just because I don’t have shapely gams does not mean I am less of a person. Who I am is much deeper than my physical appearance, and my worth and value are not contingent on whether or not my foot will fit into the latest footwear trends.  I think this is something that every lymphie must acknowledge about themselves, because it is so easy to slip into self-doubt and shame over our condition. Yes, it’s okay to have bad days where we wallow a little bit – but the key phrase there is “a little bit.” If we get sucked into the cycle of feeling bad about ourselves, we’ll never get out. It’s best to embrace ourselves every day, with love and gentleness and care. And we can’t be afraid to be ourselves, either – swollen bits and all!

So, I bought the shorts, and I wore them not only on the hikes but during our forays into downtown Sedona, too. It was liberating and I felt empowered to finally take the plunge and wear them again. I noticed a couple people looking at my leg, but I ignored it. I’m not going to apologize for or explain my leg; it is what it is, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon! Best to embrace it, and keep moving forward.

What are your latest lymphedema milestones? Or do you have any that you are hoping to accomplish?

Climbing around Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
Climbing around Cathedral Rock in Sedona.