Lady Lymphedema's Birthday Blog

(ED NOTE: Not my legs. Believe me.)

Hey my people,

Here we are at my birthday, December 22. This is a big one. Actually, as the astute blogger Lisa Bonchek Adams points out, they're all big ones once cancer has entered your life. But this is a flip-the-decade birthday, y'all. This is me getting to say I've somehow lived thirteen years since I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I've had all that time to grow, change, rant, cry, love and learn.

I haven't wanted to complain on this blog, because considering how much life I've saved up, how rich I am in memories, complaining is just bad manners. But just this once, since it's my birthday, please indulge me. 

So I dropped a heavy box on my foot in September. It hurt like hell, but I figured that's what I get for cleaning out the storeroom when it's 95 degrees. Couple days later, I look down and holy crap, my foot and ankle are all swollen. Mrhuuhhh?  

X-rays, orthopedic boots, hot packs; nothing broken, says the podiatrist. Once we've eliminated hairline fractures, he looks at my chart, sees that December 22 birthday approaching, and goes, ah, wink wink, at this age we don't heal as fast as we used to. This was inarguable but also, it turns out, irrelevant.

I found out I had lymphedema only after I started an exercise program at my alma mater, Cedars-Sinai. Unlike the podiatrist, the cancer folks knew what to look for when they saw my by-now-mild swelling. Thanks to their sharp eyes, I'm lucky enough to have caught my problem early.

It still sucks. I'd gone 13 years without pelvic lymph nodes, no problem. Then some idiot, probably me, packed the storeroom and neglected to post avalanche warnings. All it took was one injury, and there's cancer, up in my face yet again, delivering another of those little insults that make it such a pal even after it's in remission.

Now my leg is swathed in bandages out to here, and will remain so for the next several weeks. Then I get fitted for my new style statement, a compression garment. Excuse me, what? Yeah. A compression garment. Like Spanx for your foot, for life. 

On the other hand, behold the power of words. Spanx for your foot. Doesn't sound bad when you write it, does it? Sounds like something you might buy at Macy's to complement your tankini. Maybe my compression garment will make me look svelte. Ten pounds lighter. No cankles here!

Or maybe lymphedema just sucks. Regardless, even if a compression garment is the last birthday present I'd want, it is my birthday. I made it to 60, and I'm celebrating.


Dancing to Kill the Cancer Demon

Hey my people, meet Ananda Shankar Jayant. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she called on her mastery of Indian classical dance to mobilize the goddess Durga to conquer her cancer.  Since Durga kills demons, the analogy could not be better. Here, Ananda tells -- no, shows -- her audience at TED how she becomes Durga, riding the tiger into battle and emerging victorious.

Watching Ananda's dance unfold, I asked myself:  Who is my all-powerful cancer-conquering deity? I know I manifest someone because I feel myself breathing in courage in the parking lot of the cancer center.  I can feel myself putting on armor as I step inside. Where's that armor coming from?

That's my question for all of you, my friends who've walked into a diagnosis or a date for chemo: Who's your all-powerful cancer-conquering deity?  Who do you become when you walk off the elevator and into the cancer center?  Tell us and show someone else how it's done!  


Seamus Friday: Hollywood High

Hey, my people, Seamus thought you might get a kick out of looking down on L.A. from the Griffith Park Observatory.  He does.  

Of course Seamus gets a kick out of everything.  This time, I was the one who needed to get out and above. My six-month checkup was days away.  I needed to remember that the world is bigger than Cancerville.  

Proportions change up here. The Hollywood Sign is twice the size it's supposed to be; the hikers march along like ants in sun hats.  California's brown hills can seem desolate in photographs.  Don't believe it. They're full of life.  

As it happens, the checkup went fine.  Seamus and I get another six months to ramble.  Who knows where we might climb?

Emily Jones: Cancer Dancer

After undergoing chemotherapy for six months and facing five more months of same, I found myself having a hard time talking myself into exercising, which is important to my continued recovery.  Sometimes it feels like there are two people living in my body and they are completely different personalities, each fighting for control.  I don’t even think they like each other.

One is a sweet gentle creature who likes to lounge in the world’s most comfortable recliner with a good murder mystery and a bag of Reese’s; the other is a restless, frustrated woman who starts new projects weekly, knowing full well she will never finish any of them.  She rearranges the furniture in her house at least once a month and recently swapped out the dining room for the living room.  Now no one knows where to go when she says “Dinner is served.”
With my new expanded living room, I have room for an activity both ladies can enjoy – dancing – but only when the curtains are drawn and no one is watching.  Oh, I also sing like no one can hear.   Not only is it fun and great exercise, I think those squirrels living in my attic have moved on.  They probably got tired of hearing all the stomping around to the tune of “Brick House” which rattled the windows of my old home – literally.
I began my dancing career while looking around for a new fitness program that doesn’t involve getting down on the floor or sweating in the summer heat.  I read a report in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed a lower risk for dementia among people over 75 who regularly danced during their leisure time. But what was so surprising about the report is that other types of physical exercise didn’t affect dementia risk — dancing was the only physical activity that made a difference.  Okay, that did it, I’m in!         
It doesn't matter what type of dance you choose.  Mine is “free style,” incorporating a bit of a high kickin’ Irish jig, the tango, the bebop, and watusi. It doesn’t really matter so long as your body moves constantly and energetically so that you're elevating your heart rate and burning calories. I draw the line at break dancing because I would probably break something including a lamp or a body part.  By all means, turn the music up to the max and sing along, but you might want to wait until your closest neighbors have gone to work.  
I may even install a pole and a disco ball so I can ramp up my routine even more.

Richard Powers, a dance professor at Stanford University, explains that freestyle dance actually requires more brainpower than choreographed routines. You make rapid decisions about how you move, rather than following a predetermined set of steps. Supposedly this helps reduces the risk of dementia more than any other physical activity.
Freestyle dancing is easy to do anytime, anywhere; you don't need a dance floor, a partner, or a wide space. You can dance standing in front of your desk, or on top of your desk for that matter.  You can dance around your kitchen as you prepare dinner. My favorite kitchen routine is called slap dancing.  You simply move your feet around while slapping together a tomato sandwich. 

I’ll never be on Dancing with the Stars but I have worked up a couple of routines I can perform during commercial breaks.  There’s the Omaha Traveler, where I hop around while swinging an imaginary baseball bat. I invented the dance while watching the super regional baseball games in Virginia this week.  

For even more fun, dance in front of a mirror if you can stand it.  I promise you a good laugh, and a better mood will follow you whereever you go the rest of the day.
Emily Jones is a retired journalist who edits a blog for bouncing baby boomers racing retirement.  She invites you to stop by www.deludeddiva.com.

On Black Friday, Joycatching means Bargain-snatching

Hey my people, fierce shopping is part of getting Well Again. They tell us to exercise, right? If the Black Friday rush ain't exercise, I don't know what is. So if you're out today in Macy's, Target, Best Buy etc, I say: Take no prisoners! If you survived chemo, you're definitely strong enough to chase down a flat screen TV. When you get home, tell us: how did it go? Send pix so we can gloat with you! Extra points if you're still bald and you leveraged the sympathy factor to get the last XBox bundle.