I have developed a complication of lymph node surgery called cording. It’s where the remnants from the surgery form scar tissue that clumps to structures within the arm, significantly reducing range of motion. Up until this week I have struggled to do most tasks that I previously took for granted such as hanging out washing, reaching for tea cups, lifting children, straightening the arm fully and pole dancing. My useless ‘fully axilla cleared’ arm makes pole dancing really difficult so might have to give that a miss for a while (wink, wink)!
This complication has allowed me to meet a Physiotherapist with dreamy hands who is my vision of Snow White. Her perfect porcelain skin is framed by long hair. Rather fortunately and to my delight, through some hospital error I am checked in at the Radiotherapy Department reception which is where Snow White comes to meet me. Together, we get to walk all the way across the hospital to the physiotherapy treatment rooms on the other side. We spend a lot of time walking the corridors alone in transit getting from one department to another. The times waiting for lifts were a little awkward on the first visit. What will we talk about? The weather? How slow the lifts are? There were some awkward silences at first. But today I made her laugh twice and hasn’t yet cottoned onto my stalker tendencies.
My Snow White is getting in there and really making a difference. There is no knife like the surgeon. No fancy shoes and designer dresses. Just her unassuming hospital physiotherapy attire and her precious fingertips and palms. These push deep into the tender points in my armpit, shoulder, bicep and forearm, releasing the muscle and ligaments from the fibrous, scar tissued, tree roots. All of this physio work and at home stretching have improved the situation immensely, lengthening my arm so I can straighten it again. The massage and stretching can break these fibres and provide instant relief. On our first meeting, I wasn’t so lucky, but on the second we heard a snap. Incredibly there was about a 25 percent improvement after one session and another 30 percent on the second and now I almost have full range of movement again. I might have to ease up on the accelerated progress when she assesses me though, if I want a few more visits with Snow White. Might have to ‘pretend regress’ a bit. Thankfully, at present she is still eager to see me again.
Lymphodema is a cruel condition that afflicts women who have had axilla surgery. As if, the experience of breast cancer isn’t enough. It will be a real threat to me for the rest of my life and this will be in both arms as I will be having more lymph nodes removed when the second mastectomy takes place in August. So both armpits will have been tampered with. I have been referred to the Lymphodema Clinic at my local hospital for an education session in the near future.
Today, Snow White is pleased with my progress as I now have enough range of movement to ride my road bike and run. Although swimming freestyle would be a bioemechanically helpful activity to do, she cautioned me against swimming in public pools given the compromised immune system I have throughout chemotherapy. No amount of chlorine is going to protect me from the various lurgies at the indoor pool. I can practice my “air freestyle swim technique’ though, lol. Maybe even some ‘air guitar’ or some ‘air pole dancing’. Lucky it is autumn here with cooling days and with deciduous leaves changing their hue. I love this time of year in my city where many streetscapes resemble Europe because of the historic buildings and tree lined streets. All of this is a prelude to winter and snow in the Australian Alps, which happens to be my favourite all time Australian place both personally and professionally when I used to lecture in a subject called ‘Winter Alpine Environments’. I can’t believe that breast cancer has seen me through two changing seasons of 2013 already.
I am optimistic that with my Dreamy Handed Physio’s help, there will definitely be a 70.3 Half Ironman finish for me in my future. Just not this year as planned. But it will happen. I just hope my useless arm doesn’t make me swim in circles. All of you can hold me accountable to this goal declaration. I am optimistic as the fire for fitness and triathlon has definitely been ignited.