A couple of years ago, I wrote my first blog post on my experiences with lymphedema, and began the journey of reforming my identity and truly discovering the meaning of self love. There have been many ups and downs through these last few years centered around lymphedema, but I now consider my condition one of the biggest blessings of my life. So, let’s catch up where we left off.
Following my first surgery in December 2016, I began college with a full range of motion. I still struggled with nerve pain occasionally, but I built up strength and muscle, gaining weight and was back on the BMI chart (yay!) and excited for my new chapter at Virginia Tech. After my first year ended, I went out to California once again for surgery. This surgery was split into two days, the first a five hour Suction Assisted Protein Lipectomy, the second my first 8 hour Lymphaticovenous Anastomosis. Both surgeries were successful and the recovery, thankfully had no complications…..until, I was feeling good and strong 7 weeks out of my 8 week recovery and decided to help my dad move my dresser down the stairs as we packed for college. Turns out, cellulitis doesn’t feel so great. I intended to move into my new house two weeks before my sophomore year at Virginia Tech and found myself in the emergency room. This has been my first and only experience (hopefully ever) with cellulitis. I discovered that the hospital was unfamiliar with my type of lymphedema, had never seen the types of garments that I wore and was not aware of the surgeries that I had undergone. After calling in infectious disease, four doctors, and ordering IV antibiotics so strong that my veins constricted, I managed to escape sepsis. Three very long and painful days later, I returned to my new home, with a whole new appreciation of life. I am thankful for this time in the hospital, because it allowed me to truly think about everything and value that I am still here. It also reminded me that with Lymphedema, it is crucial to take care of your body and remain vigilant in self-care.
A couple months later, I hopped on a plane for my first California Christmas. This time, I was looking at three consecutive days of surgery, each 8 hours long. My wonderful sisters decided to join my mom and me; in tow my baby niece and brother-in-law. They would be there each day I woke up, groggy from anesthesia, with wide smiles and comforting conversation. This round of surgeries concluded my surgery plan set by Dr. Granzow. I had two days of Lymphaticovenous Anastomosis and one day of a Lymph Node Transfer. The transfer was taken from my left underarm, a hub for lymph nodes, and placed in my right groin, bringing my tally of surgical scars to an impressive 21.
Since then, I began to regularly practice yoga, including aerial yoga and hot yoga (I know, we are told to never get in high heat right?). Hot yoga has been something that has actually improved my overall health, with no negative consequences to my swelling.
I have continued to teach those around me about lymphedema. I help Carmen Recupero, by speaking to students, working towards their lymphedema certification, about my experiences, and allowing them to have the opportunity to feel the difference between legs, while practicing their manual lymph drainage techniques. I am beginning my final year at Virginia Tech in the fall and have realized that lymphedema continues to open doors, introduces me to wonderful people, and provides me with an invaluable appreciation of life. My scars show my journey. Life is never easy, but it is beautiful. My stocking is unique. It gives me an opportunity to offer knowledge and hope to everyone who asks. People still stare, but now, I view their stares as motivation to keep going and hold my head high because I know all I have overcome. Lymphedema has been one of the hardest, yet most integral aspects of my life. I believe it has given me the necessary skills and drive to strive to be influential in the lymphedema community. It has truly provided me an avenue to reach and help those around me. So, stay tuned, there will be many more lymphie adventures ahead!