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.

 

 

 

Letting Go

Just at the point when I started to feel better after my breast cancer treatment, I became aware of incredible tension in my shoulders. It’s been six months since my last cancer treatment, and I’m feeling pretty strong, but this next challenge arrived when I thought I could finally relax.  The sensation is something like the image from the film Black Swan when the feathers are trying to break out from under the skin on her back.  As a metaphor it’s pretty powerful  – renaissance, phoenix rising, letting go – and that’s how I try to think about it.  The reality is pretty uncomfortable as it’s hard to sleep at night when every turn is painful.

Breast cancer is no longer in my thoughts and discourse all day, but there is always a residual fear that the cancer will come back.  I am no longer ‘carefree’ – I am monitoring my health like a hawk with the added stress that this mysterious illness can be silent.  The tension has manifested itself in my shoulders, like a soldier after the war has finished but still in fight or flight mode.

woman in beige dress stretching her hands
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

The upper back and shoulders is a classic area for people to hold on to tension and stressful thoughts.  I could hardly move in bed because of the tightness.  I craved to be massaged.  I also knew I needed to cry.  I was crying over small things – watching the news, listening to a song, imagining the pain of others, but it wasn’t enough. My theory is that once I release this tension through crying, I will be bien dans ma peau (comfortable in my skin) again.

I looked for sad films, but my tears would only last for a short period of time and the tears never felt powerful enough.  Then I remembered a mantra given to me by my friend Robin, which is also called The Crying Prayer – Vajrasattva.  Every time I listened to this, particularly the version I would burst into tears.  I have also been doing Yoga with Adriene – a series of yoga programmes which are seemingly guaranteed to make me cry.  She has specific routines for upper back and shoulder tension, which are fantastic.  I also have a physiotherapist who massages this area too.

What’s happening in my upper body is a physical manifestation of the psychological tension I have felt throughout this process.  I’m hoping that as my body heals, my mind does too.  I keep thinking of those feathers trying to burst out of my back…..wish me luck.