This month I wanted to write about what’s going on in my personal life since ending intravenous chemotherapy in April of this year. I am currently still in a cancer free stage and I am so very grateful. My oncologist has put me on an oral chemo drug to try and extend this cancer free time as long as we can. Of course, I am hoping for a forever remission still!!! Yet I am prepared to face whatever happens. A few years off chemotherapy would be so nice for my body. My poor body has been put through so much in the last three years and unfortunately I recently developed a new side effect from the cancer surgery called lymphedema.
Lymphedema is when there is damage and an interruption of the normal process of the lymphatic system. Our body’s lymphatic system is kind of like the body’s trash removal system with the lymph fluid collecting and filtering waste, bacteria and other things from all around the body and then flows one way up to the subclavian veins and over to the vena cava where it is processed and returned to the lymph system to go collect more trash. All this happens right under the skin in the interstitial tissue and when there is an interruption, like the absence of lymph nodes, the fluid gets backed up and causes swelling, tightness, heaviness in the limb, hardening of the tissue and pain.
This side effect from cancer surgeries can happen anywhere in the body but most frequently in the arms after breast cancer surgery and in the legs after pelvic and/or abdominal surgery when any amount of lymph nodes are removed from those areas. Lymphedema is not curable. It is chronic and can progress to very serious disabling stages. Early intervention is the key and the treatment is very intense and involves a lot of time out of your day to simply try to manage the symptoms and keep the limb under control. People with lymphedema are more likely to get infections from any break in the skin so skin care is very important. Lymph drainage massage that is taught to the patient along with the strict adherence to elevating the affected limb several times a day and at night while constantly wearing an extremely tight compression garment. This is vital for the management of the condition. My right leg, groin and abdomen are involved and I am currently going to therapy three days a week and spend at least 3-4 hours a day at home dealing with this problem. The compression pants feel like the tightest thing you can imagine being wrapped up in and then add a little more tightness. I need a special tool to pull them on my legs. I feel claustrophobic and packed in like a sausage in casing. It’s not fun at all and this is the way it will be for the rest of my life. But hey, I am alive, right?
So, how am managing this new situation…this new “new normal” in my cancer journey? Well, I have to multi task!! I am still working as a yoga teacher, the groceries need to be bought and cooked up for meals, the laundry still needs to get done and I am still managing to travel this Fall having just returned from a solo adventure in London and now preparing to depart for a family adventure to Italy in October. A swollen limb is not going to keep me home! Europe awaits and me and my compression pants will see all the sights together!
Most importantly, I desire and my heart achingly longs for the continuation of my yoga practice. Yoga is more than the physical poses (asana) for me and I am expanding my studies of all the limbs of yoga even further during this time. I elevate my leg and read books while taking breaks to change the load of laundry. I listen to kirtan music or yogic philosophy books in my car as I drive the 45 minutes each way to therapy. As I lay there on the therapy table I repeat healing mantras in my head and picture myself healthy and happy. I multitask in this new way even though as a mother, wife, teacher, and friend I’ve been juggling and multitasking for years. So, I have had a lot of practice at balancing a busy life! I am sure many of my readers can relate.
Am I upset and angry with these new side effect developments? YES!!!! I am pissed off beyond belief that I now need to endure and deal with another incurable and chronic condition that could kill me. I mean, isn’t having terminal cancer enough for one person to handle without getting another incurable disease on top of all that?? The treatments I’ve had for the cancer have already left me with damaged nerves in my feet, aches and pains in my joints and muscles, significant hearing loss and tinnitus in my ears that never ever stops. I sometimes feel so sad and wonder how this happened to me and I struggle to accept that my life is forever changed from cancer. I am still Traycie but a different version of myself.
I am grateful for my partner, my children, family, friends, and yoga community that hold space for me when I am sad and angry about the injustice of it all. I am grateful for my friends that simply listen to me and tell me that, yes! This sucks!!! I am grateful for the people in my life who continue to check in with me from near and far reminding me that I am not alone on this path even when I feel like I am wandering alone and hopelessly lost in the wilderness of cancer. My loved ones, these amazing people in my life, they light a lamp for my path and call me back from the depths of sadness by listening to me and acknowledging my pain. With their lamps of love, their lamps of spending their precious time with me, their lamps of crying with me, and their lamps of helping me deal with whatever comes up next I am rescued from the dark wilderness and back into the sunlight of Divine love and grace. These loving souls walk beside me and soon we are laughing again, practicing yoga with each other, eating good food and indulging in fine wine together because this is part of my new normal as well. I am still Traycie. I appreciate with all of my being my loving friends and family that can simultaneously acknowledge that I am physically different now, yet still treat me like Me.
Entering into this new phase of life where once again my condition has become visible to the world is a hard place to be. My heavily bandaged leg alters my appearance in an obvious way that reminds me of the days when I was bald during chemotherapy and walked in the world as an obvious cancer patient. Many people reading this may be able to relate to the feelings of being physically different and moving through life in public spaces. The stares and attention is not fun to deal with. My ego comes up and gives me so many opportunities to see my flaws in thinking and work on myself to become a kinder, more compassionate person to myself and others. This is another form of multitasking. Living life with the Sutras, Yamas, and Niyamas as my guide posts while dealing with my very human ego. I will go on as I have for the last three years since I was diagnosed with cancer. I will keep my heart open and concentrate on how I can serve others while at the same time gratefully accepting the gifts of love and time given to me.
Yoga heals. Yoga improves whatever situation life throws at you giving you tools to cope. Yoga is life and brings me back again and again to my true nature which is not this damaged body…my true nature is Divine; lymphedema and all. It is all Traycie and all Divine.