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Lymphedema Turning “I can’t” into “I can”

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Living with Lymphedema - Turning "I can't" into "I can"
By ABCN Editorial
Jul 7, 2003


Approximately 24% of women who have had breast cancer surgery will develop lymphedema at some point in their life. When you have lymph node removal after breast cancer surgery, it’s easy to start thinking “I can’t” more than “I can” when considering how you will use that hand and arm on your affected side.  The very thought of these restrictions can be overwhelming and a nuisance.  Unfortunately, we have to live with the threat of lymphedema or the condition of  it, all our lives.  So let’s turn all those “I can’t” remarks into “I can”.  Here are a number of scenarios of how you can turn a negative into a positive:

Negative:  I can’t work in my garden any more, because if I get an infection I may end up with lymphedema or make my condition worst.

Positive:  “I can” work in my garden.  I will just need to wear a pair of protective gloves when I do and wash my hands when I finish gardening. 


Negative:  I can’t carry my luggage when I travel.  

Positive:  “I can” purchase luggage on wheels when I travel, to make it easier for me.  I can also slowly work up muscle strengthening on my affected side, so that I can carry my luggage for short intervals. 


Negative:  I can’t lift weights any more.  

Positive:  “I can” lift weights again, as long as I slowly build up the muscles in my affected arm.  I may have to lift lighter weights than before, but I can still weight lift.


Negative:  I can’t take airline trips.  My arm may develop lymphedema or it may cause further swelling.  

Positive:  "I can" take airline trips.  I just need to wear a compression garment when I am flying and do some exercises afterwards.  If I notice signs of lymphedema I can get help for it.


Negative:  I can’t even carry my groceries or packages home.  

Positive:  “I can” carry groceries or packages home if  I build up the muscles in my arm for everyday use,  carry lighter bags, and put my packages down every so often to rest my hand/arm.  I can also use a knapsack or cart.


Negative:  I can’t safely take things out of the oven for fear of burning my affected arm.  

Positive:  “I can” safely take things out of the oven.  I just need to use a pair of long well-insulated oven mitts.


Negative:  I can’t get a blood pressure test on my arm.  

Positive:  “I can” get a blood pressure test, but just not on my affected arm.


Negative:  I can’t get any treatment in my area for lymphedema.  

Positive:  “I can” get treatment in my province.   The quality of my life is important and I will do what I can to ensure that I go somewhere to get treatment early.


Negative:  I can’t go out in public with a lymphedema sleeve on.  

Positive:  “I can” go out in public with a lymphedema sleeve.  I just need to wear a long-sleeved shirt or jacket.  If it’s the summer, I can first start by wearing a sleeve when I’m with family or close friends.  Or, I can wear a lymphedema sleeve without hiding it.  People generally show concern and then get used to seeing me wear it.


Negative:  I can’t afford a compression sleeve or treatment.  

Positive:  “I can” find out if there is financial help for a compression sleeve or treatment from breast cancer organizations. I will do what I can to ensure that I get proper treatment.


Negative:  I can’t continue working because I do a lot of lifting where I am currently employed.  

Positive:  “I can” find a job that requires less lifting and is more beneficial to my health.


Negative:  I can’t do the same hobbies that I used to do.  

Positive:  “I can” do hobbies. I just need to choose hobbies that I can manage and that are safer for me.  Or, I can use protective gloves if my hobbies include working with sharp items.  


Negative:  I can’t rough-house with my children.  

Positive:  “I can” rough-house with my children.  We can make the play less “rough”.  I just need to ensure that I’m wearing my sleeve and when I call “time out” my children respond.  


Negative:  I can’t continue to be dependant on others.  

Positive:  “I can” decide what I am able to do first, before I call on others.  “I can” talk with others about my worry about being too dependant.  And perhaps there is something “I can” do to help them in return.

Think of other ways you tell yourself "I can't" and turn it around to "I can".


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