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In October 2009, at my “well woman” checkup, the nurse practitioner said, “Oh my, you should get a mammogram!” So I did, and biopsy confirmed cancer.
I was not completely surprised. Despite no family history of breast cancer, I had been extremely fatigued and was relieved to discover the source of my exhaustion. I did, however, have a sense of shock and let out an expletive as I realized that life was taking a hard turn.
I had chemotherapy, double mastectomy (without reconstruction, by choice), surgery for upper lymph nodes removal, and radiation.
Discovering I would be living with chronic pain for the rest of my life, from a combination of radiation, scar tissue, and lymphedema in my right arm. I am able to self manage my pain with an active, fitness-oriented lifestyle. My physical therapist also told me that I needed to wear a compression sleeve for flying and exercise, or other times my arm might become “tired,” but the standard sleeves were heavy, bandage-like, and ugly. Luckily, I had heard about LympheDIVAs compression sleeves before my lymph node surgery. I ordered a sleeve from LympheDIVAs right away and it was very comfortable and breathable – perfect for my needs. I even incorporated my sleeve into an outfit for a fitness competition!
Know you are a survivor from the moment of diagnosis, for you have already “survived” your cancer. Know people will not know “how to handle it,” and may say stupid things. Know that you can do this, you just may not want to do it. Know that having your emotions – all of them – is healthy, but find the time to laugh and enjoy life. Although cancer is a downer, you are entitled to joy, too.
Life really is short. The “small stuff” really is the small stuff. Be politely direct about your wants and needs. Have compassion and never judge another person, for you never know their story.
That you are “good enough” as you are. Love yourself and take care of yourself first, because then you are fit and able to help someone else.
And, for the moms facing a health challenge, it’s true that no one wants to feel “like a patient” – your mindset is so important. Refuse to wear the hospital gowns if they are not necessary, put on makeup or clothes that make you feel pretty and beautiful. Find something like LympheDIVAs sleeves to help you with the side effects of treatment. There is a power of beauty in all of us that will win over the ugliness of disease.
Dara Insley is an Air Force wife, mother of two, and fitness enthusiast who lives in Cary, North Carolina. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, Dara developed lymphedema in June 2010 as a side effect of treatment and lymph node removal.
Lymphedema, a lifelong condition that causes swelling and pain in the arm, hand or chest, most commonly occurs due to the removal of or damage to lymph nodes during breast cancer treatment. Lymphedema patients, like Dara, must use a combination of physical therapy and daily wearing of medically correct compression sleeves to manage the condition.
Refusing to let lymphedema slow her down, Dara finds exercise to be both a physical and mental release. She can be seen regularly at the gym and around town, always wearing a coordinating LympheDIVAs compression sleeve. She is an avid runner, weight lifter and yoga practitioner, often exercising for two to three hours a day. At 43, she is in the best shape of her life.