To me this is a no-brainer: when a person has a chronic medical condition that they manage every single day, it does NOT mean they are supposed to stay in bed for the rest of their lives. At the same time, it also doesn’t mean they should extend themselves to the point that they are just making their condition worse by pushing thru pain to be “tough” or “brave.” Some conditions will get progressively worse if you don’t adjust your lifestyle and take preventative measures.
I speak from experience. I have lymphedema in both of my lower extremities. Most recently, I have been battling what we think is neuropathy. The latter is much more painful to me than the lymphedema, but I’m not even sure what is what when it comes to the pain. All I know is that it hurts terribly.
I enjoy walking. That is one of my favorite stress relievers and a way that I stay physically fit. Gaining weight is very bad for my lymphedema so I try to stay moving, even if they are short now because of pain. Still, I do many things to keep myself smiling and positive because if you don’t have your mental health at the end of the day, what do you have?
Anyone that battles lymphedema or neuropathy knows it is a constant balance between sitting and standing. When I’m having a “bad day” my medical paperwork says I’m supposed to only work for four hours a day, three days a week. If I’m having a “really bad flare up,” I am supposed to keep my legs elevated all day. We all know that’s not feasible when you are trying to work every day and show up for your employer. It’s very stressful constantly trying to play catch-up and run out the door for another doctor’s appointment.
Someone made a comment to me the other day that really hurt my feelings (I cried). In short, they questioned how I could be out and about and yet still be so “sick.” I have since processed it, and I realize that anyone that questions my pause from teaching does not know my struggles or my story. They do not know medically what is going on with me. For them to assume that I am “supposed to” stay in bed and not go on a walk or do anything fun, well that would also be detrimental to my mental health.
They are not in my shoes. They probably couldn’t even find my shoes on the shelf. If they could, they would know this:
I am constantly worried that I might have an accident because that’s what now happens sometimes because of the radiation to my bowels. It is very common among women like me who have withstood grueling treatments for cervical cancer. It’s a nasty side effect. God Bless Imodium! Fellow Cervivors and I jokingly say that we need our own diaper bags. We can laugh about things such as bodily functions, but it doesn’t mean it’s fun or funny. It never goes away. We are just lucky to have a sense of humor about it because at the end of the day, what else can we do?
When you ask me to go boating or out to dinner, I worry that I will ruin the fun because my feet/legs will hurt and I won’t be able to even focus on the conversations around me. The pain can make me nauseous and I feel like I want to throw up. Sometimes my eyes will randomly tear up just because I’m so tired of the gig. But the gig is my life so I can’t take a vacation from myself.
When I’m trying to get to work on time, I may seem frazzled when I arrive, It’s not because I’m not trying my best. Some mornings the thought of standing hurts before I even get out of bed because I know what it’s going to feel like when I do. Sometimes I’m changing my clothes at the last minute because I had an accident as I was walking out the door. Such fun! At any random time that you are with me, I’m probably fantasizing about taking a hot bath. There’s something about chronic pain, stress, and physical exhaustion. Bad recipe.
Before you judge me (or anyone!) and try to critique me based on your idea of what a “sick person” does with their lives, try to put yourself in my shoes. You truly don’t know, unless you have lived it. Take a walk with me and let’s see what happens! Remember, you don’t know my reality until you have actually walked a mile or two with me or next to me. This post isn’t just for my own situation, but it’s for all of us cervical cancer survivors and those with chronic pain or chronic illness who have dealt with the judgement of others.
I’m posting about this, because I’m trying to create awareness and empathy. People are beating cancer much more than they did decades ago. Yet with surviving comes long-term side effects that sometimes become progressively worse with time. Our bodies know the score. When discussing taking a break from work, a coworker said to me, “your body already made the decision for you.” She’s right. It did. And I had to take something off my plate so I could feel better physically/emotionally. I’m taking a knee right now for myself. And no, I will not be staying home in bed in a dark hole every moment of my life. I will keep on living and enjoying this life that I have fought so hard to enjoy. I am a real person and this is my life. Thank you if you are someone that understands. I love you. If you are part of my amazing tribe and you don’t feel you understand, please just ask in a supportive and loving way.
Shawna Christy, 46, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2005. Treatment included removal of her cervix, uterus, 1/3 of her vagina and more. Though surgery and radiation helped her beat cancer, “the hard parts came later” – like chronic pain together with PTSD and the emotional, hormonal and spiritual challenges of being a cancer survivor. Shawna plugged into Cervivor for community and support. In 2016 she attended Cervivor School and became a Cervivor Ambassador who uses her voice and her experiences to open conversations and “change the narrative.” She lives in Ottumwa, is a proud mother of daughter (Korynn, 18) and son (Kyler, 16). She is grateful for time with her besties and husband, Allen. This year she is taking time off from teaching first grade to focus on her health to better manage her pain.
See other Cervivor blog posts about lymphedema: “My Under Armor: Do you know about lymphedema?” by Heather Banks