Being Human

Going into a chemotherapy ward is terrifying.  I was very anxious about having chemo and psychologically I wasn’t prepared for it at all.  I’d seen women before, that haunted look, the grey skin, the separateness.  Despite having a lumpectomy, I still looked well, albeit stressed.  I was about to undergo a treatment which would bring me into world of the ‘unwell’ – the people on the periphery of life.

hands-walking-stick-elderly-old-person.jpg

The moment I stepped into the ward, I was horrified and became hysterical. I didn’t want that stuff in my body, but more than that, I didn’t want to be like ‘them’ – the other people in the cancer ward of the hospital. People were being wheeled in and out on trollies, some were sitting in large chairs, perhaps sharing a room with one other. It smelled of death and sickness. All the rooms were open, so as you walked down the corridor, you could see everyone in their varying states of decay. No one was laughing, no one was having fun, everyone looked terrible. I remember the moans of a man, with a large bloated stomach, obviously in huge amounts of pain. This wasn’t me, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

Then something happened. The psychiatrist had been in to see me, who had been baffled by my reaction and I eventually calmed down and allowed myself to be connected up to the chemo. I read a book and talked to my husband to try and forget what was happening. Suddenly a lady was wheeled in next to me – she could have been thirty, she could have been eighty, I had no idea. All I knew was that she was incredibly fragile. She looked like a little bird who could hardly open her eyes. The two strapping young ambulance men wheeled her in, and placed her on the bed with such care it was really touching. In the process of transferring her to the bed her slipper fell off her foot, one of the men gently caught it, and place it back onto her foot with such tenderness. The physical contrast between the muscular healthy young men and the fragile weak lady was really striking. The lady still had her eyes closed, as if she had either simply given up on life, or was too weak to open them.

I watched, suddenly feeling guilty about my earlier outburst and my relatively fit and healthy state. I watched as she lay motionless on the bed next to me, as if on the cusp between life and death, I wasn’t sure. The nurses clearly knew her well and had probably cared for her for some time. Perhaps they had known her when she was more than just a lifeless figure to strangers’ eyes. One nurse came in to give her some sort of injection and link her up to more machines. Before leaving she stroked her hair back gently from her forehead and kissed her. That simple act was so pure and giving, it humbled me.

Going through this treatment is horrendous, but it gives you in a glimpse into another world, which we can all be part of one day. Some will come back to full health, some of us aren’t so lucky.

Advertisement

Clearing your drains

I haven’t written my blog for a while, as it’s nearly two years since my treatment ended, and I seem to be in pretty good shape, god willing.  I still see a physio once a week to help restore me back to full health.  At first it was because of the tension in my back, but now I am learning so much more about how the body works and how to support it.

One of the knock on effects post breast cancer, particularly after an operation, chemo and radiotherapy is that the lymphatic system can be damaged  Your underarm lymph nodes may have been removed, or perhaps reinserted after examination, plus radiotherapy in particular can mean you are unable to sweat from your underarm.  As this is a major gland for removing toxins from the body, I was worried my impaired lymphatic system would damage my future health.

person raising her hands
Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

There are various things you can do to support your lymphatic system.  The simple act of swinging your arms above your head and then downwards invigorates the lymphatic system.  Also a gentle massage of your collar bone helps drain those toxins away.  More than this, just breathing properly has an incredible effect on the body.  My physio told me to do big belly breaths, five counts for intake of breath, then five for holding and then five for breathing out.  Really push your belly out as much as you can.  This aids the lymphatic system and also helps to release stored emotions in the body.

For some reason, I had stopped breathing into my belly, perhaps for thirty years or so – really breathing into it, so your belly balloons out.  My breathing had become so shallow, that my diaphragm barely moved.  Why was this?  Perhaps I had subconsciously trying to avoid my deepest feelings, or perhaps I’d read some teenage magazine which said that pushing out your belly was unattractive….who knows.  What’s for certain is that now my back seems straighter, and I feel more connected physically and mentally.

Whilst working on my back and spine, my physio said there were all sorts of blockages in my body.  These can be due to emotional shocks, past accidents or operations which can disrupt the flow of energy in the body, hence leading to illness further down the line.  When my physio first tried to stretch my neck by pulling my head, I froze, and feared she may actually pull my head off – probably due to an old ski injury when my neck got caught in the rope barriers leading to the ski lifts!  So over time, my physio is unblocking my body and I feel so much better for it, not just physically, but by unblocking my body, my life seems to flow more easily.  Breathe and move, and do those things you used to do when you were a kid – a handstand, swinging like a monkey, dance around and sing.  Singing is also great for the lymphatic system and for relieving stress.

Try and tune into your body and what it’s trying to tell you.  The lymphatic system is really important (who knew!) and it helps you stay disease-free.