So what helps us through our lymphedema or cancer journey? Whether our journey is dealing with lymphedema, chemo, radiation or some other treatment or test, we often travel through turbulent terrain.
The answer is different for each of us, depending on our personalities, needs, environments, etc. But to safely traverse the minefields of cancer treatment and its side effects, which sometimes is lymphedema, we each need to figure that out. Just like when we take a trip, it tends to go better if we have a plan.
If you aren’t the rustic type, you wouldn’t book yourself into a top of the Alps campground, sleeping perilously on a mountainside, next to a sheep that doesn’t even say “baa baa” in English. No, you’d be at the Four Seasons or something as close to that as you could afford. A charming B&B on a small Parisian street would be wonderful. But if you are more outdoorsy, you might not be able to stand staying in more conventional lodging.
So why don’t we take the same approach to traveling with cancer? Traveling with lymphedema? Why don’t we figure out what we need for a comfortable trip?
A big factor is that none of us really want to go on this journey. We all find ourselves on this trip against our will. We didn’t choose it. We don’t want it. But darn it, we got it.
So we can choose to pout or to put out. Put out what we need to navigate this trip as comfortably as we can. What do we do to move from merely surviving to thriving on this journey? We do some soul searching, meditation, quiet thinking, maybe yoga, and then we bust out!!
Figure out what makes you tick and what you need. You probably already know it. Look at how you like to spend your time. Look at what brings joy to your heart. Do it! Look at what you can’t stand to do. Don’t do that!
When I first got cancer, everyone wanted to drive me to chemo or sit with me while I was there. But I really didn’t need or want that. If I had felt tired or poorly, I would have asked them for help with such things. But I was able to drive myself and frankly, I liked having time by myself to read or to sleep. So instead, I got them all to come over to my house and clean out my cabinets and closets! That’s what I really needed.
But for many of us, it’s nice to have someone with us for chemo or a medical appointment. They can get us water or coffee, or talk with us. They can take notes for us when it’s hard to remember exactly what the doctor or nurse said. They can help us walk if we feel weak. Ask for what you need, not what people think you need.
When lymphedema started showing up, my friends encouraged me to delve into it to learn more. Because I like fashion and enjoy accessorizing just about everything, they accompanied me to find sleeves that were fun to wear, but also therapeutic, of course. No one told me to just suck it up,
or be stuck with it in a way that would get me down.
When I first got cancer in 2006, a friend gave me a little ceramic plaque that said, “Put on a little lipstick, you’ll be fine.” So I did. And I was fine… most of the time. Now, we all know the lipstick didn’t actually make me better, but it made me feel better and look better. And that is what made me better. It gave me hope. It made me buck up when I didn’t feel like bucking up. And lipstick does that. So does eye liner and blush. Do you know who knew that and built his company on that philosophy? Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon. Years ago, he told his employees that they didn’t sell lipstick. They sold hope.
Even though the cancer has come back a time or two or three or four, in my mind, I am fine. Not cured. Not healed. But fine. I put on my lipstick and am fortunate to be able to manage my various diseases with grace. Like anything, that takes effort and determination. I have chosen to use my energy to make my journey more comfortable. You can, too.
Lesley Ronson Brown is a two-time breast cancer survivor and a three-time lymph node cancer survivor. She has hadlymphedema since 2011 and has learned how to manage it through traditional and complementary therapies. Lesley is a certified Yoga teacher, with a specialty certification in Restorative Yoga, and has taught for more than 15 years. She also is certified in Pilates and Group Fitness Exercise. But her favorite thing to teach is yoga! She currently is completing her 500-hour yoga teacher training and is writing a thesis on Yoga and Lymphedema.
- Breast Cancer Lymphedema Etiquette (breastcanceryogablog.com)