Living Fully with Lymphedema

When I first became a certified lymphedema therapist almost eighteen years ago, the principles I was taught to offer my patients with lymphedema were almost all negative.

These are the things you should never do. This is a lifelong condition that will only get worse.

Even though the therapy was often powerfully helpful, the message wasn’t.

You survived cancer, but now you are irreparably damaged.

Over the years, robust studies investigating how the lymphatic system works have demonstrated its elegant capacity for repair, its built-in redundancy to compensate for injury and illness.

We now know how much we still have to learn and how wrong we often were to limit the possibilities of people living with lymphedema.

In fact, for many of my patients living with lymphedema, the journey toward taking care of themselves, reducing symptoms and risk, is the beginning of a loving, playful and forgiving relationship with their bodies that only deepens as they age.

The following are some myths and truths about symptom management.

Myth

  • A lymphedema home program takes too much time and effort.

Truth

  • I don’t do everything I can every day to support my intact lymphatics, but today I can do at least one thing.
  • Deep belly breathing, self-massage before falling asleep, wearing compression while I exercise, applying lotion with decongesting strokes

Myth

  • There are so many things I used to love to do that I can’t anymore because I have lymphedema or will develop lymphedema.

Truth

  • I can work with my lymphedema therapist to find ways to do the things I love. Almost nothing is completely off limits because of lymphedema.

Myth

  • Lymphedema is a lifelong condition that will only get worse.

Truth

  • Lymphedema is a lifelong risk and lifelong condition, and as with other such conditions (diabetes, heart disease), I can make choices that support and promote lymphatic health, actually increasing my joy and quality of life in the process.

Myth

  • My heaviness, my achiness, my swelling, my tightness, my lymphedema: these are mine, my limitations, my pain.

Truth

  • I choose to define myself by what is supporting me, not what is limiting me. The lymphedema and the symptoms are simply that, a condition. They are not me or mine. They don’t define me.

Choosing these supportive truths can play a powerful positive role in your healing as you move forward during and after cancer treatment.