Tuesday, September 29, 2020

BEST LAID PLANS AND A BIRTHDAY

Best laid plans....blah, blah, blah......

I honestly DID have every intention of upping my game with diet and exercise this month! I had a plan! I was starting to do more yoga (ish) type exercise and using my rebounder consistently. I was walking more often. I planned to be alternating walking and jogging by the end of September.

But then on September 17th, I ended up in the emergency room with some severe pain in my back and just under my ribcage, as well as some other nasty symptoms. After having some scans and bloodwork, the diagnosis was acute Pancreatitis and a gallstone that needed to be removed. 

I was admitted to the hospital where I remained until late Saturday afternoon. It was a LONG couple of days, with my diet consisting of ice chips until just before I was sent home to rest up for my scheduled surgery.

Before leaving the hospital, I was treated to some yummy pureed mashed potatoes! LOL! 

They were the consistency of skim milk! 
                                                                                                   
And yet, they were pretty tasty after only having ice chips for a couple of days!

SURGERY AND LYMPHEDEMA

During my stay in the hospital, while they were trying to ease the inflammation in my pancreas, fluid had started leaking out from my IV into my arm during the night, leaving my arm red, swollen, and very sore. It was still pretty bad when I went in for surgery on September 23rd. Since they were doing robotic surgery, they needed to put an IV in each arm. Because of my lymphedema, they couldn't use my right arm at all. So, they had to search for other veins to use in my left arm. I won't go into any great detail, because quite frankly, it's making me nauseous just thinking about all the poking and prodding that was done before they were able to find suitable veins for the surgery. 


But here I am now, almost a week out from surgery. I am happy to say that overall, it hasn't been too bad. I am walking as much as possible, but still have quite a bit of soreness along with some other minor annoying issues. One of those issues is trying to figure out precisely what I can and cannot tolerate food-wise. I'm not sure when exactly I will be able to get back to exercising. My followup appointment is next Tuesday. 

IN OTHER NEWS.....

Today is our sweet Alex's 26th Birthday! We won't be celebrating with her in person since she is in Arizona, but we will chat with her later this evening. I miss her so much! 

WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE???




Thursday, September 3, 2020

LYMPHEDEMA. JUST A LITTLE SWELLING??

Hey, Y'all! Today's blog post is all about lymphedema. Please remember that I am not a medical professional or a lymphedema specialist. I am a breast cancer survivor who is dealing with this issue myself. Everything I share on this subject comes from personal experience or information obtained through resources recommended by my team of health care professionals, or from other breast cancer survivors like myself.

After mentioning my struggles with lymphedema, I've had a couple of people ask me precisely what lymphedema is. Someone asked, "Is it really a big deal? Isn't it just a little swelling?" 






SO WHAT IS LYMPHEDEMA?

I guess the simplest way to explain it is that lymphedema is an abnormal swelling of the arm, hand, fingers, or chest where a protein-rich fluid accumulates with inadequate drainage. And, yes, it can be just a little swelling. 

However, the amount of swelling can vary greatly. From just a minimal amount of swelling to "elephantitis." In the latter case, the limb grows very large, and the damage is irreversible. My physical therapist told me that she had a client whose affected arm was 120% larger than the other. So, NO.....not always just a little swelling

The photo below is actually a milder case of lymphedema, similar to mine. My underarm and shoulder are affected as well.


Lymphedema can be a side effect of breast cancer surgery. During surgery, whether a mastectomy or lumpectomy, some of the lymph nodes in the underarm (axillary lymph nodes) may have been removed to see if they contain cancer cells. During the removal, the lymph vessels can become blocked, preventing the lymph fluid from leaving the area, resulting in lymphedema. I had 11 removed along with my right breast, and all 11 contained cancer cells. My surgeon warned me that I was at considerable risk for developing lymphedema. 


IN ADDITION TO SURGERY, THESE BREAST CANCER TREATMENTS CAN ALSO CAUSE LYMPHEDEMA:

  • Radiation therapy to the lymph node area. The scar tissue that forms from radiation can cause blockages in the lymph flow, making it harder for the body to build new lymphatic paths.
  • Steroids used during chemo regimens. Steroids can sometimes cause fluid retention, which can affect the arm and trunk.
  • Hormone blocking drugs. Hormone blockers can cause edema.

INFECTION

Infection is a real concern after having lymph nodes removed. If you no longer have all of your nodes, a cut that wouldn't have been serious before has the potential to turn into an infection that can spread throughout the body. The more lymph nodes that have been removed or damaged, the harder it is for your lymphatic system to deal with any injuries or cuts, even the ones that are barely visible to the naked eye. 

TIPS TO REDUCE RISK OF INFECTION:

  • Try to avoid injuries, scratches, and bruises.
  • Wear gloves when doing house or yard work.
  • Keep skin clean and well moisturized.
  • Use insect repellent when outdoors.
  • Use the arm that is not at-risk when having blood drawn, having blood pressure taken, or getting injections.
  • Avoid sunburn, excess heat from saunas, hot baths, and other sources.
  • Do not cut nail cuticles.

Treat suspected infections of the at-risk arm and hand right away. Wash the area and apply an antibiotic ointment. 

CELLULITIS

It is essential to watch for a spreading rash, especially if the skin feels warm or tender. This can indicate cellulitis.

Cellulitis requires immediate medical attention. If not treated with antibiotics, cellulitis can spread rapidly and become life-threatening. 

Lymphedema is irreversible. But it is manageable. 

SOME THINGS TO HELP MANAGE LYMPHEDEMA

  • Exercise and move the arm. Find some exercises specifically for lymphedema.
  • Get fitted for a compression garment.
  • Avoid sleeping on the affected arm.
  • Elevate the affected arm or hand and prop it on pillows to help reduce swelling.
  • Don't carry heavy bags on the affected arm.
  • Have a lymphatic massage by a trained specialist.
  • Reach or maintain a healthy weight.

WEIGHT AND LYMPHEDEMA RISK

People who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop lymphedema after breast cancer treatment. When your body stores extra fat, that fat tissue requires more blood vessels to bring it oxygen and nutrients. Any areas of the body with excess fat have more fluid to get rid of. If your lymphatic system can't handle the amount of fluid coming from your arms or upper body, lymphedema can result.

I recently read that overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25-29.9, obese as a BMI of 30 or greater! For example, a 5'5 woman weighing 150 pounds or more is considered overweight and obese at 180 pounds. There are many online tools you can find online to calculate your BMI. Um, yeah, I have some weight to lose!

THE IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE IN THE MANAGEMENT OF LYMPHEDEMA

Exercise is crucial in the management of Lymphedema. I know that not only from reading many articles on the subject but from personal experience.

THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE

  • It works your muscles, which increases the flow of lymph fluid and helps move it away from the affected area
  • It keeps your joints flexible and improves your range of movement
  • It can help reach or maintain a healthy weight, which can reduce lymphedema swelling.
I have arm stretching exercises that I am supposed to do daily. I can definitely feel the tightness and swelling in my arm more when I forget to do them!

Walking and running are a fantastic way to get the lymph flowing, but I have a problem with the summertime Georgia heat! I prefer to be indoors with air-conditioning! A treadmill would be great, but I don't have one, and I really can't afford one!

Recently my friend, Debbie, asked if I had ever considered using a mini-trampoline/rebounder. Why hadn't I thought of that before?! After our conversation, Debbie and I both did a bit of research, and we discovered several articles about the benefits of using a rebounder to help stimulate lymph flow. 

I started looking into purchasing one right away! I was a bit shocked by all of the different styles and sizes available and the cost to buy one! They definitely aren't cheap! I had planned to find the least expensive one I could, but Debbie surprised me by sending me money to purchase a really nice, sturdy one! Yes, I am truly blessed to have this woman in my life! 



At first, I was a little afraid of the rebounder, since my balance has been off more than usual since being on Letrozole. My last bone density scan showed some bone loss since the previous scan, so the first few times I got on the rebounder, I was a little cautious! Now, I am very comfortable bouncing on it, though, and I really enjoy my workouts!

 Brady wishes he could join me!


I'm also giving yoga another try! In addition to helping with my lymphedema, I know that yoga can be a great way to deal with stress for many people. I personally have always steered away from yoga for several reasons. One being that I am an impatient person! I have a problem with the whole, "be still-just breathe" thing!


I also happen to have an arthritic knee that doesn't bend very well. However, I have recently found a few videos online to adapt to my knee issues, and I am actually starting to enjoy yoga!

I hope this info is helpful to anyone who might just be curious about lymphedema. But I especially hope that anyone reading who is dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis might find it useful. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. 

Blessings,





BTW, here's a guick overview of the Lymphatic System and how it works:

The lymphatic system is part of our immune system and it helps protect our bodies from infectious diseases. The system consists of a large network of lymph nodes and lymph vessels located throughout the body. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs that trap unwanted substances and fight infection. Lymph vessels are tubes that circulate lymph, which is a clear fluid that is pushed through our body's tissues to cleanse them and keep them firm. The contractions of our muscles push the lymph fluid through our lymphatic systems. The lymph nodes filter the lymph fluid, removing the bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and other harmful substances. The filtered lymph fluid is then returned to the bloodstream, and the unwanted substances are eliminated from our body.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Motivation

Help! I've lost my motivation, and I can't seem to find it anywhere!! 


When I last posted (July 14th??!), I said that I struggle with finding energy and motivation these days to exercise, eat right, and to focus on living a healthier lifestyle. I said that I thought I needed to spend some time rethinking my "why." WHY is it so important to me that I find my lost motivation? What are the reasons behind my goals? 

And I DID spend some time doing just that. About 5 minutes! And then I let stress take over. Again. Anxiety about the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic situation. Stress over the thought of sending my son back to living in a dorm while the cases of COVID continue to climb here in GA. Worry about my daughter moving to Arizona to get her Master's degree where the virus is also running rampant. Worry about my other adult children and their families. My good friend who is about to undergo surgery. And then........

Is it a Lymphedema? A blood clot? CANCER?????

As I have previously mentioned here, I suffer from Lymphedema in my right arm in the area where I had 11 lymph nodes removed at the time of my mastectomy. The pain and swelling have been confined to the upper arm and underarm area. However, I woke up one day last month, and my lower arm was swollen and hard. I looked a bit like Popeye. I assumed it was Lymphedema, and although concerning, I wasn't freaked out until I noticed a small hard knot under the skin just under the inside of my elbow. 

After briefly freaking out and wondering if it could be a blood clot, I decided to do a Teledoc visit just to see if the doctor thought it was something I should have checked out right away, or if he thought it was due to the Lymphedema. I figured since the Teledoc visit was free with my insurance right now due to Covid-19, it wouldn't hurt and would probably make me less stressed to hear him say that he thought it was nothing.

What?? 

After talking to the doctor for approximately 2 minutes, he said that the skin didn't look weird around the knot, and since it was the arm with Lymphedema........He just stopped talking and looked at me. Um, so, you think it's just Lymphedema, right doc?? He then says, "Uh, you had cancer on that side. Cancer travels through lymph nodes. Do you see where I'm going with this??" He then told me I needed to see a surgeon ASAP for a biopsy, or x-ray, or WHATEVER they do for cancer.

WAIT??? WHAT?? Cancer had NOT even crossed my mind! I was thinking maybe blood clot, but cancer??? I felt like an idiot, and the doctor ACTED like I was an idiot for not immediately thinking of that!

So, long story short. My surgeon said to see my Oncologist, and he would schedule any scans he thought necessary. I had to wait over a week to see my doctor, all the while stressing and worrying. Then, when I saw my Oncologist, he said he was almost positive it wasn't anything to worry about. Definitely not cancer. But after seeing how stressed I was, he decided to send me for a doppler ultrasound just to rule out a blood clot. The good news, FINALLY, was that there was no blood clot! Apparently, it was some sort of fatty deposit! So now, I just need to do everything possible to control the Lymphedema and stress

Putting healthy practices on the back burner during times of stress.

During times of extreme stress, it can be so easy to put our health and wellness on the back burner. We often find ourselves losing focus and motivation for self-care, especially when it comes to exercise and nutrition, both of which are so important for our overall health. So how do we go about moving self-care up on our priority list?

Here are a few things that I am working on myself that I feel will be beneficial in both helping find that lost motivation and making some much-needed changes to improve my mental and physical health and well being.

Focus on my "why." I intend to spend some time each day focusing on my reasons for wanting to make my mental and physical well-being a priority. We each probably have many reasons for wanting to lose weight, or eat better, get fit, etc, and we would probably do well to take some time each day, or at least weekly to focus on those reasons.

Develop my personal self-care plan. Self-care isn't a one-size-fits-all strategy. I am working on putting together a plan that takes my own age, health issues, and other limitations into account.

Find ways to deal with stress more effectively. Worry, stress, and anxiety can trigger all sorts of health problems. We all have stress in our lives, especially in the crazy Covid world we are living in right now, and we all handle stress differently. Personally, I don't seem to be handling stress so well right now, so I am putting in some quality time trying to figure out the best way for me to deal with these issues. 

Give myself permission to not feel motivated all the time. If I occasionally have a day when no matter what I do I just don't feel motivated to exercise or do something else I had planned for the day, I will try not to beat myself up over it. Sometimes I think its important to just spend time breathing, thinking, planning, or just BEING. 

As I try hard to make improvements to my health and happiness, I'm sure I will add some other strategies to help with the process, and I will share them here as well. 

Is there something that helps motivate you? Perhaps you have some strategies for implementing or improving a healthy lifestyle? Is there something that enables you to deal with stress more efficiently? Please share!

Blessings, Y'all!




PS. It's September!! Can you believe it??



BEST LAID PLANS AND A BIRTHDAY

Best laid plans....blah, blah, blah...... I honestly DID have every intention of upping my game with diet and exercise this month! I had a p...