Fascia, passages and epiphanies (Or, I didn’t want to bite my therapist’s hand off today!)

So I’m back on track with physiotherapy, due to a rather irritating combination of lymphedema and some ulnar nerve compression. Since last year, my therapist has been working on getting my fascia moving again. Five surgeries on the left side of my body have left me feeling stuck, a feeling that is very difficult to explain. Needless to say, the skin on the left side of my torso moved about as much as the veneer on the dining room table in front of me about a year ago. Before walking into my first physio appointment I had kind of landed in a very accepting/complacent/resigned place. I just figured I would always hurt. That this was simply the new me, and there was not much to be done about it.

I’ll never forget my first appointment with the therapist affectionately referred to as ‘The Body Whisperer’. After respectfully asking all sorts of assurances from me about what he was going to have to do in order to properly assess me, he placed his hands on my stomach. Knew, through a gown, that I had had C-sections. That the right side was tighter than the left (which makes sense because although you’d think the surgeon would follow the scar made the first time around in an emergency section on round two, this isn’t a given, and sometimes you end up with a fork-shaped scar instead of a nice straight line). I was rather impressed at this point, and realized my body was being read. I trusted him immediately. So you can imagine the relief I felt when he put his hands on my chest and said ‘Oh, you’re so stuck.’ YES. (Inner voice yelling THANK YOU. PLEASE HELP., tears rolling down the sides of my face because I realized someone might actually be able to do something.)

Over the next few months, I gradually went from using door frames to ease the pain between my shoulder blades and rolling tennis balls under my back laying on the floor to realizing that I hadn’t pushed back against a door frame in a couple of days. A week. Things were loosening up.

Then summer happened. And, well, I really like summer. So physio got put on hold, and road trips were had. Lots of them. And flights were taken. Many of them – milk runs and all. Also, a pretty spectacular sunburn was had as a result of some very poor judgement at a water park in Maine.

Word to the wise: if you are at risk of lymphedema, and you get a sunburn, and it blisters, do NOT pop said blisters, no matter how compelling they may seem. Do NOT mess with that fluid balance and then hop on three short term flights back-to-back. Because believe me. You don’t want to be stuck wearing a compression sleeve, or better yet a compression sleeve combined with an isotoner compression glove. That’s just too much beige. Trust me. I know.

I know. Stop. It's too sexy. I can't seem to find the glove. I may have (purposely) misplaced it.

I know. Stop. It’s too sexy. I can’t seem to find the glove. I may have (purposely) misplaced it.

So, back to physio. When the discomfort in my forearm got too harsh to ignore, and my arm started to visibly swell, and feel hard to the touch, I went in to get checked out. You remember – that ‘is it infection, a blood clot, cancer or lymphedema?’ appointment. It turns out it’s not as simple as lymphedema. Basically things aren’t flowing properly because of a combination of reasons, one of which is that the space between my shoulder and my ribcage is considerably smaller than it is on the right side, and space needs to be made. I’ve been walking around like a crazy person with a question for weeks now, hand straight up in the air, applying pressure to a specific spot on my elbow in order to feel the reward of pins and needles in my hand and release some of the pressure in my hand and arm. There is also a painful load of scar tissue around my lymph node removal incision site that is hindering flow.

This area has always been particularly sensitive. My body slams into fight mode every time my physio’s hands go anywhere near my armpit. I prepare myself mentally for the exercises that require this before I go into his office, and still I have flinched, startled, jumped, convinced myself to stay on the table rather than jumping off or better yet fought-off-urges-to-snarl-and-bite-his-hand-off. It took me months to be able to graze my own hand over that scar. I guess 17 lymph nodes is a lot of lymph nodes.

Well. Something really interesting happened today, or I guess it would be more appropriate to say something really interesting didn’t happen today. It was a very quiet session – usually we geek out and talk French grammar together – I commented on the vibe around the place when I went into the office. So when I spoke it broke the silence.

Me: Well. That was interesting. (Whoa…wait – what??)

Him: What was interesting?

Me: That was the first time since the first time I came to you that I didn’t have to fight off the urge to (see above). I usually do. (!!)

He answered by telling me he felt a change too, like there is movement happening. My right side then responded by buzzing a little, toe to shoulder, as if in response to my left side finally sending something its way.

It’s coming. I am less stuck. Some passages are opening up again.

All the yay!

A special place I visited a few weeks ago. Moving water must encourage my body to open up. I'd best keep up my river walking!

A special place I revisited a few weeks ago. Moving water must encourage my body to open up. I’d best keep up my river walking!


Pencils, passports and paranoia (Or, I bought a heavy-duty pencil sharpener the other day.)

The catalyst.

The catalyst.

I bought a heavy-duty pencil sharpener the other day. This may seem like an act that should be ranked right up there with I grabbed a newspaper, or I watered the plants, but for me it was far from trivial. There were four to choose from, ranking from the very-cheap-may-last-the-year version to the mediocre battery-operated type, and then there were two heavy-duty sharpeners, with bigger price tags but which came equipped with heavy cords and big promises. Mine promises to last beyond my far-off retirement, in high-traffic areas such as classrooms or large offices. I considered it an investment. And a huge leap of faith.

Some of you are no doubt scratching your heads at my chatter about pencil sharpeners, and others, who have been forced to see life in a way that forces them to hesitate to plan for their futures, may be getting it.

I haven’t renewed my license for more than one year at a time since I got sick. When I renewed my passport, I went for the five year renewal rather than the ten, because, well – that part’s probably pretty obvious. When someone tells you you have cancer, and when that delicious luxury of being able to blissfully utter phrases like ‘when I retire’, or ‘in ten years or so’ is removed, you stop making assumptions about longevity. And, if you’re like me, you stop daring to look forward to things that are really far off. You say things like ‘if I get to get old’ instead of ‘when I’m older’. And, if you’re like me, when you go to your oncology appointments and they tell you everything looks good and your blood work is great and they’ll see you in three months, there is still a small, slightly irrational red-faced Tanya inside your head shaking the lovely pink-shirt-sporting doctor and yelling I DON’T BELIEVE YOU. Because you’ve had the bad appointment too. You want proof.

On my last appointment, which very nearly coincided with my two years past-chemo anniversary, I brought in a little sticky paper that my lymphedema specialist (so yeah. That’s happening.) had written on. Four possible causes for my very sore, slightly swollen arm. This is kind of a synopsis of how that appointment went.


The physiotherapist announced that she was just going to jot a few things down for me to show my oncologist at my appointment.

  1. Cellulitis: Bad sunburn, Very high anxiety/stress, lots of massage in left armpit.
  2. Blood clot: Venous doppler?
  3. “It could be your cancer coming back. But I’m not going to write that down.”
  4. *Lymphedema: add sleeve.

Wait – what??

So I hyperventilated my way through the two hours leading up to my oncology appointment with a couple of friends and presented that lovely little sticky to my oncologist, who lifted my arm up, showed me how the veins in my hand flattened when it was held above my head and filled when I put my arm back down again, assuring me that I wasn’t going to drop dead of a blood clot letting loose and filling my lungs in the next ten seconds. Whew. Well then what about this cancer thing?? (If I could somehow make the words build into a panic-filled-hysterical crescendo for you, I would.)

Poke. Prod. poke-prod. Inhale. Exhale. WELL???

“I don’t feel anything going on in there. You’re fine. There’s nothing happening. Go have fun.”

So this is when I peer into his eyes to see if he’s trying to trick me. I make him double-check my blood work. It’s when I get a hug from my friend who’s just seen me through this appointment, and my whole body exhales, my shoulders come down about two inches, and I desperately want a burger. (That’s traditionally how these appointments go. I panic and have no appetite leading up to them, and then generally by the time I open the exit door to the parking lot of the hospital, I am ravenous and want a burger.)

Post-appointment relief.

Post-appointment relief.

So back to the pencil sharpener. Believing that I’m going to be around long enough to really get my money’s worth out of this pencil sharpener is a leap of faith. It’s not, to be clear, about the sharpener. I mean it’s pretty and everything, but it’s not that that excites me. It’s the hope. The tentative belief. It’s something I’ve decided to do more often. When I renew my licence plates again, which I am usually very bad at, it will be for two years, not one. And when I renew my passport, I am going to take the ten year option, dammit.

Because it’s nice to have something to look forward to.