Balance Act

Yesterday morning I was persuaded by the nurse, who measured both my arms and found them to be exactly the same, that I did not have lymphedema. This was followed by a long visit with the doctor who convinced me that my risk of getting lymphedema is something like three or four percent. So not only was I convinced on both counts–that I didn’t have it and that I likely wouldn’t get it–I was also impressed with my thoughtful, cutting-edge (so to speak), and careful treatment. So I agreed to get zapped after all. Today was Day 7 out of 33.

But it was no surprise that I freaked out at the first sign. I’ve been getting double messages on the subject of lymphedema. During my first visit I was handed an article that warned of more ways to get lymphedema than you could shake a stick at, my grandma would have said. Even a hang nail could set me up with a fat arm for life! How could I not panic? I’ve been without my right arm function for as long as a year and it is, for me, as painter, writer, and college English teacher, a special place in hell.

Despite the many ways to get lymphedema, including showering in water too hot or too cold, washing dishes, touching a hot pot, insect bite, small cut or scrape, apparently only a small percentage of breast cancer patients ever get it. If we are so vulnerable, how come more of us aren’t running around with a fat arm?

It’s all a balance act: Being unusually careful of my arm but not worrying too much; allowing myself to grieve my losses while aware that most patients at my treatment center are facing worse; being grateful for caring people while forgiving them things they say or don’t say that irritate me–I can be so self-absorbed that I don’t always find out what’s happening with them. Life is beginning to resemble those computer games my son used to love so much–there are many levels of difficulty.

Not Out of the Woods

I found out today from my radio oncologist, who spoke with me for almost two hours, that I do indeed have invasive cancer and I have decided that I am going to have to go through radiation after all. I resisted it because lymphedema to my right arm, upon which my whole life and livelihood rests, scares me more than losing a breast. But now I believe that it would be foolish of me not to do it. I was so happy, feeling as if I was let out of prison, and now I feel reincarcerated. Sort of apt, don’t you think? Sort of incarcinoma-ed? I am not without courage but I am a wimp. Getting sucked into the medical machinery like this scares me silly.

My brother, a doctor, helped me read the pathology report. It was dense with scary language but he was a short cut to getting some of the terms. A website that also helped me was A similar website,, suggests how Chinese medicine might enhance traditional Western treastments. I may explore this to support my own healing.