One of the first memories I have of waking up after surgery was the nurse putting a blood pressure cuff on my left foot and telling me that this was they way the nursing staff were to take my blood pressure from now on. She said that due to the fact that lymph nodes had been removed from my right armpit, I was NEVER to allow anyone put a blood pressure cuff on that arm as it would result in major swelling of the arm and my head would explode! Ok, so maybe she didn’t quite say the part about the exploding head. But she may as well have.
Looking back, I was totally clueless as to what it meant having lymph nodes removed. As a massage therapist, I understood the importance of the lymphatic system and the role it plays as the body’s own waste disposal system, I totally understood the lymph nodes were filters which help protect the body from infection. I had been told by my surgeon that lymph nodes would be removed and sent away for testing and that the results of these would also play a role in any subsequent oncology treatment, as this was the way the cancer cells could literally hop onto the “lymphatic hi-way” and be carried around my body to other organs etc. What I didn’t realise, was that the removal of these tiny nodes would result in me being unable to pull up my pants!
I have since learned a lot more about the consequences of lymph node removal…like my right arm was so painful and lacking movement that for a while Pete and the nurses had to feed me, help me to the bathroom to pull my pants down AND up, I couldn’t wash myself, I couldn’t dress myself, I couldn’t even reach up high enough with my arm to brush my teeth. For someone right hand dominant, fiercely independent and severely battle scarred this was torture, frustrating and embarrassing!
It got better…today is 4 weeks post op for me and my arm is stronger, still limited in movement, but you will be happy to know I can pull up my own pants! I went to physio yesterday for lymph drainage to help facilitate normal movement to my arm and of course, to prevent my head exploding!
I will always have to be careful of any bites, cuts, infections or applying any pressure directly to my right arm, but I guess that is all manageable in the bigger scheme of things.
The one thing I now also understand is that healing needs to be tackled in small steps; gently, with patience and persistence not with frustration and ego. “Slow and steady wins the race”. Being angry, frustrated, irritated, being too proud to ask for help and wishing the situation was different only succeeds in making me feel bad about myself and all the things I can no longer easily do on my own; it also only highlights how far I still have to go and not how far I have come.
I lament about not being able to go to pilates, put my hair in a ponytail, not being able to get into or out of a bath, or missing out on my ultra marathon training (okay people who really know me – just go with this one!). Whereas I should actually be relishing the fact I can now pull up my own pants and that I now have sufficient knowledge about lymphoedema to totally keep my head from exploding!
“Some people find that healing is one of the hardest emotions for processing. Healing just needs time and a lot of little steps before it can reach its comfort zone again”. Chee Vai Tang
“Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.” Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew”. Saint Francis de Sales