The gift that keeps on giving

I’ve been remiss in blogging the last few days. I could be a big baby and say I haven’t been feeling so great, but I won’t. Even if it’s true. Cancer. It’s always cancer. Seems that nary a day goes by without someone I know or a friend of a friend being newly diagnosed. It would be easy to get bogged down in all things cancer, but I won’t.

Something bad happened last week. Not “recurrence” bad, but side-effect bad. Something I’ve been scared shitless of since learning that this foul thing even exists. Until last week, said foul thing had not gotten ahold of me, but then on Wednesday last, everything changed.

Lymphedema.

The dreaded swelling of a limb following surgery, particularly surgery in which lymph nodes are removed.

Since my mastectomy 18 months ago, I’ve been on guard against the dreaded lymphedema. I have a fantastic lymphedema specialist, Tammy, who has become not only a vital member of my health-care team but also a great friend. Visiting her is like a trip to the spa — serene setting, trickling water fountains, dim lights, soothing music, and lovely & caring women. It’s a safe haven among the shitstorm that is breast cancer.

I started seeing Tammy as a preventative measure all those many months ago, and while I never had lymphedema, she worked her magic on my scar tissue and rough spots after my surgeries. With her help, and that of office manager and “salt police” Janice, I’d educated myself about lymphedema and had, until now, been successful in preventing it.

All that came to a screeching halt Wednesday. The proper care, the education, the prevention, the vigilance — gone. Just gone. My left arm swelled up like a balloon and felt heavy, tingly, tender, and sore. I was scared.

The thing that scares me so much about lymphedema is that it can come out of nowhere, months or years after surgery. And it can be permanent. The last thing I want after being handed a cancer diagnosis at age 40 is to go through the rest of my life with a balloon arm. That would put a serious crimp in my tennis game.

Luckily, Tammy and her staff of lymphedema slayers were on the ball and treatment commenced right away. I got to experience the joys of “the pump,” in which the offending limb is encased in a stockingette, then stuffed into a huge, padded wrist-to-shoulder sleeve reminiscent of the padding used to train police dogs, then encased in a plastic-y sleeve attached by thick cables to a machine that squeezes the limb rhythmically. The idea is to squeeze the excess fluid out of the limb and guide it back through the battered lymph system to then be filtered out of the body and released into the atmosphere, hopefully never to be seen again.

The plan was to rest (egads), avoid lifting anything with my left arm (bye-bye strength training), and wear the compression sleeve (oh so fashionable, and yet another palpable signal to the world that there’s something wrong with me). Pump it every day, drink as much water as I can hold and then some more, and hope it goes away. After laying low, being a gimp, wearing the sleeve, pumping and adding some k-tape, and drowning my innards 5 days, there is some progress. The swelling is down, but not totally gone. I want it gone. IMHO, 5 days is more than enough time for it to be gone.

Y’all know how much I loooooove being a patient, enduring complications, and being sidelined.

Not.

This latest complication and sidelining was rather tough. Mentally more than physically, which is a change. I guess it’s good to shake things up every now and again. The getting back to “normal” was getting kinda boring, and the idea of finally putting this cancer experience behind me probably was a pretty stupid one. Why not insert a wrench into the plan?

There are lots of things that aggravate the hell out of me with lymphedema. Lots of things. First and foremost is how rudely it interrupted my foray back into my “normal” life after the latest surgical procedure. I’m a busy girl and an impatient girl, so the “stop-start-stop-start” nature of getting back to “normal” after cancer and in between the 8 procedures I’ve had is trying. Just as I was getting back to “normal” after the October revision and hitting it hard at the gym, the balloon arm strikes. In fact, one of my fellow gym rats was just telling me, the day before the lymphedema arrived, that it looked like I was back. As in, back to my usual workout routine and getting stronger. Two weeks in a row, I’d had 3 hard workouts in a row. I was actually starting to see some progress, and with no more procedures on the horizon, my future in the gym seemed quite bright.

I should have known it was just a tease and wouldn’t last. I should have realized that cancer and its many ugly aftereffects will always have a hold on ┬áme and will get the better of me. I should have recognized that no matter how hard I work and how many things I do right, my arch nemesis will forever be skulking around in the shadows, waiting for the perfect time to shit all over me once again.