When I had my breast cancer surgery in 2008, my lymph nodes were removed, too. My doctors gave me information on lymphedema, but since I was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, I didn’t think much of it except to purchase a “no medical procedures this arm” bracelet and to wear a compression sleeve when I flew.
That all changed four months ago when I began renovations on my new house. My arm, hand, neck, and shoulder blew up.
I immediately went to the local lymphedema clinic, where the therapist taught me massage and wrapped my arm from fingertips to armpit – told me to keep the wrap on, sleep in it, and protect the wrap in the shower with calf birthing plastic sleeves. (FYI, they sell calf birthing gloves at Farm & Fleet, if you ever need them...)
She also told me to not lift more than two pounds. My dogs weigh more than two pounds. My cat weighs more than two pounds. My basket of laundry weighs more than two pounds – oh, wait, yeah, that’s okay...so, honey, the therapist says I’m not supposed to do laundry, or vacuum, or dust...repetitive motion, I’m supposed to avoid that too. Pretty sure that means I can’t cook dinner.
Housecleaning? I can bypass that for a bit, but I’m a writer. How do I type without my fingers? And I’m in the middle of renovations – seriously, I need to lift things! I’m finally off all of my cancer medications and now you tell me I have lymphedema?
I briefly returned to the whiny, cranky, I-hate-being-sick stage, then thought, well, what can I still do?
I had a big old visual reminder on my left arm that I am a cancer survivor, so I needed to counteract that with a different visual – one that I could create. I grabbed a canvas, then realized painting was going to be difficult (it’s hard to wash things one-handed), so I thought, “I can try mixed media.” I tea-stained a canvas, deckled some old sheet music and mod podged it on the canvas. I cut out a photo (my right hand works fine), pulled some “I’ve been saving this for a project” stuff out of a box, and created this.
I don’t care that it isn’t perfect. It showcases my wedding date, the watch is set to our ceremony time, the buttons are from my grandmother...it means something to me and it makes me smile. It took a lot longer to create than it would have if I had been able to a) work with two hands, b) not have to stop to elevate my arm, and c) actually known how to put everything together. Every day, while I was bandaged, I went to my studio and worked on it. In the midst of pain and frustration, I could still create. And I did – I created something tangible and my mind was at rest while I worked on it.
The swelling has gone down and I’m back to work. I’ve learned new massage techniques and how to wrap my arm, and I have some cool compression sleeves I can wear when I work in the garden or lift items...and yes, I’m back to doing housework, too.
And my little art project? I titled it “For Chris,” for my husband, who continues to support my journey with love and humor. This little bit of me was displayed at this year’s exhibit at the Figge Art Museum. For me, it’s a symbol of what Living Proof Exhibit is all about – the therapeutic benefits of art and celebrating the creative spirit of the cancer survivor.
I hope your journey continues to be filled with new discoveries – and let me know if you need any calf birthing gloves. I have a few left over...