What is your worst fear post-cancer? This is an easy one. Of course 99.9% of us would say reoccurrence. But beside cancer coming back, which of course trumps everything else, is this:
Life Debilitating Issues
Very quickly most women accept, but don’t talk about, the number one fear. Because most of us don’t really have a choice. That fear would be losing any sensation in our breasts. Now granted, we don’t need breast sensation for everyday life, but it certainly is debilitating when it comes to our sex life for sure.
The second fear, of course I’m assuming this because this would be my fear, and that is lymphedema. Nothing made me more scared pre-mastectomy than seeing pictures and hearing horror stories of lymphedema. I’ve always been crazy scared of life being debilitating post-cancer.
So a few months ago, one week post-surgery, I had just finished painting my daughters room, when I realized my hand was swollen. Eek! I immediately started crying to Jeremy. You all think I’m really strong but really I’m a big’ol woos.
There’s a really long story here about me freaking out, and how poorly I handle a little swelling. But you might fall asleep. I did learn something through it that I’ll share with you:
A. Remain calm. If you’ve never had swelling before, chances are it will resolve itself.
B. Wrap the swelling and elevate. I put my compression sleeve on because that is the only thing I’d been given. It did nothing for the swelling in my hand. Your local drugstore has tape that sticks a little when you wrap it. You can unwrap it and re-wrap it. So wrap in so it’s snug but not too tight.
C. See your family doctor. Mine was concerned it might be an infection so he prescribed antibiotic. But a family doctor can also refer you to physical therapy or a lymphedema specialist.
D. Be purposeful about getting that referral. Here’s why:
For a year or so I’ve had reoccurring pain in my hands. Both sides. It felt like the skin hurt on the back of my hands and lower arms and then under my armpits. I let it go because any time I mentioned it, no one seemed to know what it was. I started to think it was just something I should learn to live with, after all “I had mastectomies, right.” I just figured it was the way it was. I couldn’t possibly hope to be pain-free, right?
That is terribly wrong think’in. Don’t live with pain. Haven’t I always said you need to be your own advocate? Why don’t I take my own advice? The pain in my arm was probably a sign of circulation issues, even if no one else had experienced that pain. My hand swelled because it was tired of being ignored. Another symptom I had was numbness and tingling in my hands….again, just thought I needed to learn to live with it.
I started physical therapy for “thoracic outlet syndrome” almost 6 weeks ago and I haven’t had pain or swelling since. We’re still working on the numbness. I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to be pain-free. Some of the things she’s working on with me is posture. Without a double mastectomy we have poor posture, but women who have had mastectomies or breast work tend to try to hide it by bad posture. I’m learning to stand up straight, and who knew I had muscles in my back that needed to be strengthened!
So the moral of this story is: don’t live with pain ladies. Seek help.
Oh….and take off your ring if your hand swells!