Authored by Juliana Conte @lymphie.fit
Lymphin' through the holidays
Often, we think of the holidays as a season to focus on joy and quality time with loved ones. However, for a lot of people, this season can bring additional challenges; especially for those with chronic illnesses like Lymphedema.
Lymphedema is an inflammatory disease of the skin caused by a malfunctioning lymphatic system. It’s most commonly recognized by the presence of significant swelling in a single, or multiple limbs, but it can be anywhere or everywhere in the body. Many lymphedema patients aren’t diagnosed until it has progressed into a more severe and difficult disease state.
Our lymphatic system is an integral part of our immune system and is responsible for the circulation of liters of lymph fluid from our blood, every single day. When this system isn’t working properly, we are left in a state of chronic inflammation which causes further damage to our cells and tissues and can lead to life threatening septic cellulitis infections. So, as patients, we cannot just wait for funding and researchers to provide a solution for us. We must take proactive steps to improve our condition.
Always remember, you are an individual and a diagnosis doesn’t make you the same as everyone else. Listen to your body and respect it. One practical thing to implement (if you aren’t already) is journaling your symptoms, how you feel, and what you did that day etc. We can’t keep it all in our heads and we can learn a lot more about our bodies if we can look back, reflect, and find trends in our symptoms.
Here are a few topics to consider this holiday season if you have lymphedema:
How to dress with compression
Wear It. Don’t forego compression to avoid awkward stares or comments, this will just create a bigger problem for you to deal with later. Wear the outfit you feel best in, and if your compression shows, consider yourself a trend setter. Custom compression, like the Curaflow by Bauerfeind, plus a set of comfy clothes and shoes really helps me stay as comfortable as possible and prevents further complications. Who says you can’t be comfy and cute for Christmas?! Comfy and stretchy has been my motto lately, as I look for clothes that don’t cause discomfort or pain. Shopping can be frustrating at times, so have an idea of what you’re looking for before you go.
You don’t have to move like an athlete, but you do need to move like someone who has lymphedema. Our compression provides pressure from the outside, but our muscle contractions act as a pump on the inside. The bottom line is that fluid is stagnant, and we need to help it move. Even if it’s just a few minutes, a couple times throughout the day, do something to move your lymph by moving your body in a way that works for you. Make sure you are compressed properly. If you have no idea where to start, message and ask! Also, you’re always welcome to join us on Instagram, where we encourage each other with story posts of intentionally moving our lymph through any exercise, hashtagging #sweatcheck, and tagging a few friends to encourage them to move their lymph as well!
Drinking and eating
If you know you’re about to consume something that will trigger your lymphedema, set limits, and consume in moderation. Triggers are everywhere this season, so have a note handy to write any new ones you discover. Alcohol, refined sugars, and processed meats are some of mine. I used to enjoy social drinking before lymphedema, but the repercussions of drinking lasting in my body for days/weeks, just isn’t worth it to me.
This makes things more difficult, especially if you are flying. Bring as many of your treatment tools as you can, so you can be prepared. Ensure your affected limbs are properly compressed as you travel and elevate when possible. Move as much as you can in between sitting and waiting times. Try to avoid standing still in lines and don’t be afraid to speak up if your medical condition is worsening. Please don't suffer in silence. It might be hard to ask for help but people are often willing when you do.
Create a customized maintenance routine for yourself based on your needs, your capacity, and the resources available to you. Keep as much normal lymphedema maintenance in this busy season as you can, while still allowing yourself to enjoy the things you choose to. One thing you can do to help support your body no matter where you are, is practice diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale belly out, exhale belly in (stop breathing with only your chest).
Intentionally check on yourself
Set reminders on your phone if you must. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in the commotion and forget to check on all aspects of ourselves. Take a few minutes to yourself and assess how you’re feeling. By doing this, you’ll likely detect potential problems, and avoid or address them before they cause you additional stress. Stress is another major trigger for many people with lymphedema. Practice stepping away if you feel your stress levels rising and seek ways to reduce your stress in general.
I’ve created this blog in collaboration with @bauerfeindcuraflowcanada to help others with lymphedema navigate the holiday season. These are things I’ve learned through my own experience with lymphedema. If you have ideas to add, don’t hesitate to reach out! That way we can keep moving forward together, while the researchers in the field continue working towards solutions for managing and curing lymphedema.