We here in the Northeast are still digging out from our holiday blizzard. I know we are not the only people to have ever experienced extreme weather, although you might not realize that from the news coverage. A lot of you in various parts of the country/world have had your own storms to contend with. And happening during the holidays, it meant a lot of people were out traveling (or trying to) in it. I hope you all got to your destinations safely!
I'm sure a lot of you have been putting in some time with a snow shovel. I have. But because we have a major house repair requiring us to move half of our house to the other half, I've also been lifting a lot of heavy boxes and furniture.
And that's got me thinking about strength training - for everyone, but especially for anyone at higher risk of upper body lymphedema. Sometimes we need to get things done; life demands it. It's better to have the strength to handle whatever the situation is.
In 2001, when I had my mastectomy & full axillary dissection, I was given a lot of advice about avoiding lymphedema. The main advice was to never lift anything heavier than 5lbs., don't carry anything on that side, don't carry a purse on that side, never lift groceries on that side - in other words, don't use that side. As a musician who must use both arms strenuously to play, and must carry around an instrument plus whatever I need for the day (concert clothes & shoes, possibly music stand, water, maybe some food, a book, the newspaper...), I found those restrictions impossible.
I, like a lot of women back then, decided to test our bodies to see what we really could do. On advice from lymphedema therapists, I started exercising gradually. I was lucky to find some people who had the attitude of "give it a try, but always pay close attention". We discovered that those severe restrictions were not necessary. And, in fact, were somewhat detrimental.
Of course, doctors' thinking on this has largely changed (although I continue to be shocked by some of the things I hear that some doctors are still saying). There have been studies, most notably the study by Kathryn Schmitz at U. Penn., that have found exercise, and specifically weight training, to be beneficial for lymphedema. It just must be a very gradual, progressive program which allows you to build strength but not to over stress the muscles.
By never working to regain or build strength, we end up weak and unable to do many tasks of daily life. We end up at high risk of straining our arms, which is often a strong trigger for lymphedema. Life sometimes demands action from us. We have snow storms, groceries, furniture to move, kids to lift....
, I always stress building the strength (gradually, in a controlled plan!) to handle what we need to do. This is true for anyone, but especially for anyone at risk for lymphedema!
So I encourage you all, again, to work to build enough strength that you won't be undone by a snow storm or your daily life.
And I have had a chance, amidst all the packing/moving/shoveling, to get out and enjoy what the blizzard has brought!
- BY Julie | 12.28.2010
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