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.