As a therapist who works in private practice, as well as at Cancer Survivor and Rehabilitation Clinic at a local hospital, I encounter many patients who are just coming to terms with their lymphedema diagnosis. Many arrive for their appointments feeling discouraged by the unwelcome changes in their bodies (i.e. the inability to complete activities of daily living due to pain), fearful about just how large the affected area will become, and uncertain about what (if anything) can be done to reduce or stop the swelling. Which is why, in addition to providing them with the most effective treatments I can, I spend a good portion of my day encouraging them to take a more active role in their treatment.
For many lymphedema patients, depending solely on healthcare professionals and/or the goodwill of their family members to manage their symptoms seems like a good idea initially. Why? Because dealing with the demands of their families, work and the seemingly unending string of medical appointments is more than enough to keep them running of their feet. As a result, it’s not uncommon for them to be resistant to the idea of adding yet one more thing to their long list of ‘to do’s’. However, when the pain and swelling become too intense to be ignored, they quickly realize that learning to manage their symptoms on their own is a necessity. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, by the time these patients get onboard the self care train, so to speak, the changes in size and mobility of their affected body part are often dramatic; resulting in the need for more intensive treatment protocols.
Luckily, once they embrace the notion that putting in the time and effort to control their symptoms – between ‘tune up’ treatments by a therapist – yields the best results, these patients immediately start to feel better. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve literally seen people arrive for their appointments one week on the of verge of tears due to pain and feelings of helplessness, come back the next bursting with excitement about how good the lymphatic self-massage, bandaging and/or decongestive exercises I taught them are making them feel. What’s more, the individuals who are the most consistent with their self-care regimens, don’t just do better than those who are less so, they thrive! Having the tools and knowledge to slow or stop the changes to their bodies, brought on by lymphedema, helps them move past their fear and sadness about having a chronic condition. Shifting their focus towards doing what they can to improve their health, brings on a sense of empowerment that allows them to truly live well.
So, if you’ve been resisting the need to do your part to successfully manage your lymphedema symptoms (which I completely understand because I’ve been there, too), I urge you to see this post as your wake up call. NOW is the time to step into reality, face your situation in the here and now, do all you can to maintain or improve your quality of life, and show yourself a whole lot of L-O-V-E. Make the decision today to learn all you can (ideally directly from a certified lymphedema therapist or a doctor) about everything you can do on your own to keep your symptoms in check, and commit to doing what you can every single day. Because, you know you’re totally worth the effort, right?