Lymphedema requires diligence all seasons. Do not let icy cold weather catch you or your lymphedema, unaware. Take precautions to protect yourself.
Felicia Mitchell is a poet and writer who makes her home in southwestern Virginia, where she teaches at Emory & Henry College. She was diagnosed with Stage 2b HER2-positive breast cancer in 2010. Website: www.feliciamitchell.netLymphedema requires diligence all seasons.
Summer, we are diligent to avoid sunburns, insect bites and poison ivy. In the winter, moisturizing is even more important as skin is dryer than usual. Autumn and spring? The usual precautions are best kept in mind. Raking, for example, might require an arm sleeve if you do not wear one daily. When planting bulbs and seeds, gardening gloves are helpful.
Lymphedema requires a special diligence in winter.
Now it is winter. It has been cold where I live, which means that the twinges I feel in my arm when I need a compression arm sleeve have been more frequent. Extreme temperatures, hot or cold, are not good for lymphedema. With temperatures ranging from 1 degrees on up, I have had to work hard to avoid additional swelling and to listen to the lessons of the aches and pains that herald a flare.
Over the holiday season, my dryer broke. Cleaning up the basement for the arrival of a new dryer was not so arduous. I also needed to clean the steps into the basement, though, a chore I usually save for spring. Cleaning the steps meant sweeping pine needles and fallen leaves and carrying them into the woods. I thought I was prepared for that, but I was wrong.
Dressed for the exercise opportunity, I wore a sweater, warm cap and down vest, plenty for an active half hour outside. Now and then, during the half hour, I would go back inside the basement to warm up. At some point, though, I realized that my right hand was numb. My left hand? It was fine. I put on gloves, which I should have worn from the start, to finish my chore. Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment then, I felt worried.
I should have worn both compression sleeve and gloves for my cold-weather activity that turned me, a breast cancer survivor with lymphedema, into a science experiment. It was 15 degrees outside when I swept up the debris on the steps to tote to the woods. Curiously, that temperature did not affect my active left hand at all. It was my right hand that started to go numb. If you believe your lymphedema is under control, as I like to, this sort of experience is a wake-up call.
Lymphedema means paying attention to the thermometer, high to low.
I am embarrassed to admit that I put myself at risk. I am usually so on top of the lymphedema challenge. Sometimes, I guess, we forget we are vulnerable. I want to forge ahead through life's challenges as if cancer or lymphedema never happened. It makes me feel more powerful if I can shovel the snow off my driveway or clean up for a delivery crew.
I should think twice before impressing myself with my dexterity. Next time, I will.
Some of you, likely most of you, are already as diligent as you need to be to stay on top of the challenge of lymphedema. If not, live and learn. Do not do what I did. Be careful in cold weather. Protect yourself and