Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Bend over

Getting a flu shot shouldn’t be a complicated thing, right? Roll up the sleeve, brace for impact, insertion, completion, and leave. That’s the way it should go down but for someone with lymphedema, it’s not that easy.

After a recent annual physical, the doctor reminded Phil and I that we needed to have the flu vaccine. We’d become familiar with this routine and were ready to receive the shots at his office when our doctor sadly shook his head and informed us his office hadn’t received their allotment of inoculations yet. “Not to worry,” he said, “You can stop by any local pharmacy and have your shots today. Many pharmacies are participating in the annual inoculation program and won’t charge anything as long as you have insurance that covers the dose.”

On the way home from the physician’s office, we noticed a large sign outside our local CVS pharmacy indicating their participation in the program. Get your flu shot now, the sign said in big red letters.

Pulling into the parking lot, we were thankful to see only a few cars. Thinking we'd be in and out quick, we meandered inside.

Walking through the store, we made our way down the aisles to the back of the store where the pharmacy was located. Going up to the counter, we indicated our desire for the flu vaccine.

After we filled out necessary paperwork regarding the shot, we read the warnings about potential side effects and other pertinent information. We signed on the dotted line and returned our forms, then were instructed to sit and wait.

Before being seated, I asked to speak to the pharmacist. I told the pharmacy assistant I had important information regarding my health that I needed to share. The assistant asked me to divulge the information to her and she’d pass the news on to the doctor. Reluctantly, I leaned over the counter and whispered, “I’m a breast cancer patient and have lymphedema in both arms. I am not allowed to have the flu vaccine in my either arm. I need to have the shot in my hip.”

I watched as the assistant’s face changed to that of surprise. It was evident, by her reaction, my request was not a common one. As she turned to walk over to the pharmacist, I continued to watch. She whispered into the doctor’s ear and the pharmacist’s eyes widened.

Within a few months of surgery, I’d noticed an abnormal swelling in my upper arms. After seeing the oncologist, I was diagnosed with lymphedema, a painful condition often occurring after the removal of lymph nodes or breast cancer surgery. With the removal of nodes from both arms, the lymphatic system’s proper flow of lymphatic fluid through the body had been disrupted. This disruption caused a buildup of fluid in the extremities causing swelling and discomfort.

“With lymphatic limbs,” my doctor advised, “Any injection, tight pressure, or injury could exacerbate the condition and might possibly lead to a more serious condition called cellulitis.” I was told it was up to me to guard my arms since I was the one who would be affected adversely should injury take place, but doing so often invoked odd reactions from medical staff.

As I waited, I couldn’t help wondering why getting an immunization in the hip was such a big deal. The only reason I could think of, at this pharmacy, was the fact that there was no private area. Immunizations were given in an open area, in front of other customers. And, while I didn’t relish the thoughts of dropping my drawers in front of inquiring eyes, I’d already made up my mind that if that was what it took, that was exactly what I would do. Modesty had left me long ago after my diagnosis with breast cancer.

Thankfully, the pharmacist took me into an employee breakroom to administer the vaccine. I was glad to have the privacy the room offered but hoped no employees would come into have lunch while my cheek was exposed.

Just before the pharmacist injected the needle, she confided in me. “I’ve never had to give a shot in the hip before, in fact, I had to call my fiancĂ©, who is a physician, and ask him exactly how to do it.” Her confession didn’t offer peace of mind.

The pharmacist was unsuccessful on her first attempt and apologized profusely. Standing there with my buttock exposed, I tried to remain calm and patient. Since she was behind me, I couldn’t see what she was doing, but I assumed she was reloading the vaccine and steadying her aim.

Within just a few seconds, I felt the quick jab of the needle and the burn of the medication entering my body. I almost laughed when the doctor breathed a sigh of relief. To lighten the mood, I looked over my shoulder and spoke to her saying, “I bet you’re glad you don’t have to do this every day, aren’t you?” She smiled and shook her head in the affirmative.

As we walked out of the breakroom, I thanked her for understanding. She accepted my gratitude and went back to work.

Rejoining my husband, I noticed the stare of other customers waiting for their shots. I'm sure they were thinking, "Where did she go and why did she get preferential treatment?" But I wasn't in the mood to explain.

Lymphedema has been a challenging side effect of breast cancer surgery and affects every aspect of daily living. Protecting limbs may seem like overkill to someone without knowledge of the condition, but the cautionary efforts are for my benefit.

Educating others about lymphedema is often shouldered by the person with the condition and while I don’t always enjoy doing it, I do it because I must. If I keep quiet, I’ll suffer the consequences and I’m not willing to risk bodily harm because of pride.

Getting a flu shot shouldn’t be a big deal, but sometimes it is, and that’s okay. Laughter and making light of the situation can help make others a little less uncomfortable.

For those with lymphedema, it’s important to speak up. Not all medical staff are familiar with lymphedema, its side effects, or precautions to prevent exacerbation of the condition. It's so important to be your own best advocate.

Monday, September 16, 2019

For those with breast cancer, mundane tasks like grocery shopping can be a challenge.

Before cancer, grocery shopping was a pleasurable experience. Up and down the rows, I'd search out new and interesting products now matter how long it took, now it's a challenging task. Lymphedema and back pain make my trips to the store short and fast, or at least that has been the case for the past year or so, but now that I've discovered online shopping and free pickup, things have become much easier.

This weekend, I ordered groceries through Kroger's online service. The process was quick and easy only taking about fifteen minutes. After I'd loaded my card, I inserted my credit card information and voila! I was done. My order, the site said, would be ready at my specified time the next day. I was grateful I hadn't had to go through the process of driving to the store, wandering the aisles, choosing my food items, loading them into the cart, unloading them onto the conveyor belt and then, reloading them into the car. That would have taken more than an hour and I didn't have that precious time to waste.

The following day, I received a text alert reminding me to pickup my order at the specified time. Happily, I drove to the store to retrieve the order. Sitting in the parking lot, I read through some emails as the store employee loaded everything carefully into my car. Within minutes, the employee was closing the tailgate on my vehicle and I was off. Smiling all the way home, I was grateful.

After bringing all the groceries inside and putting them away, it hit me. There had been a team of people who'd put my order together. Looking at the receipt, I saw about 8 names listed with a big smiley face and a hope you have a great day written beneath it. My "pullers" as they called themselves, had each been assigned separate sections. As they worked together, they made the task of assembling my order an easy one.

Sitting down at the table, I decided those workers needed to understand how vital they were to people like me, people with physical limitations like breast cancer, lymphedema, chronic fatigue, and back pain. Taking out a piece of stationary, I began to compile my thoughts and drafted a note of gratitude.

My husband agreed to drop of the note the next day on his way home from work. I hoped it would be received by the manager of the online ordering department and that it might possibly be shared with other staff.

The following day, I got a call from Kroger. The manager of the online shopping crew called to tell me they'd received my note. She thanked me profusely and said it was rare for them to receive any type of thanks much less a handwritten note. She commented on the fact that I was a breast cancer survivor. I'd shared that information in hopes of helping her understand the importance of their online service, especially when I was having one of my bad days. The manager understood and responded that she had a dear friend with breast cancer who had just started chemotherapy. We talked a few more minutes about the devastating effects of breast cancer before ending our conversation.

I couldn't help wondering if every woman knows someone touched by breast cancer. Perhaps not a close friend or relative, but surely, if every woman thought hard enough, even a distant acquaintance  would come to mind. Would it even be possible to find one women unfamiliar with the disease? I doubted it.

Breast cancer is so prevalent in our world today and it's sad to say so many have been touched by it.

Thankfully, there are companies, like Kroger, who make our lives a little easier by offering their online services. And next month, the shelves are going to be filled with pink ribboned products, but I think I'll pass on those when placing my order. I don't need a constant reminder of breast cancer. All I have to do is look down, there's a permanent reminder just under my nose.

A robot is going to do my surgery?

My innards have decided they don't want to work anymore. For the past 3 years, I've been having issues. First, it started with diffi...