This post is about one of my absolute favourite clients. I feel like a bad mother, favouring one child over another, I do enjoy spending time with all of my clients (I can honestly say that) but this one in particular is very special.
J had a mastectomy ten years ago. No reconstruction. She's in her early 70s and I can say without a doubt she lives life! She is a regular at the opera, ballet, talks, art galleries and last year even went on an art study tour across Canada. She and her husband regularly go on holiday with their children and grandchildren, usually somewhere that has sun, sand and surf. J is an avid body surfer and joins in with all ages in all activities. Alternatively, they go on holidays with people their own age, down to their cottage in the bush and there they do bush walking and climbing. This woman has more energy than I do.
Then there's all her charity work. She's involved with a Multiple Sclerosis foundation, actively organising events and support group meetings. She and her husband sit down each year and look at a list of research projects that are looking for funding and read through each one to find a couple that resonate with them that they donate to. Then there's the Flying Doctors. And the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (http://www.aief.com.au). They donate to these charities, but are clearly involved more deeply as they are asked to attend functions held to thank patrons on a regular basis.
And these are just the things I know about. There must be many more.
J is in great health. She comes to see me once a month for a maintenance lymphatic drainage, she has had some minor swelling around her scar and through to her back, but certainly not what can be classified as lymphoedema. Until the day she got bitten by a tick on the back of her hand on the same side as the mastectomy. This is one of the things to look out for when you've had breast and lymph node surgery - insect bites can trigger swelling. As can sunburn, scratches from thorns, needle sticks while sewing, a burn from the oven and numerous other seemingly innocuous activities. The trick is to live your life regardless and be aware of what to look for and what to do in case you trigger a sudden lymphatic issue.
She instantly found her entire arm swelling, in particular the top of her hand. There were visits to the doctor, antibiotics and a couple treatments with me, but things were not improving quickly enough. In a case like this, what I do is refer on for intensive treatment with bandaging, laser, taping, exercise and compression garments. I don't have the facilities to do this. It involves daily treatment during the week for between four to six weeks - a major commitment in time and energy. But the results are fantastic and after that time, J was able to see me again, initially weekly then spacing out the treatments back to the original monthly visits. She is now totally back under control and wearing her compression sleeve during the daytime. She's been on at least three active holidays since then, it really hasn't slowed her down at all.
Throughout all of this exhausting process I don't think I ever heard her complain, not once. There was nothing but chatter about all the exciting things in her life and how lucky she is to be able to experience all of these. J - you are my champion, a woman of grace and compassion for others. A woman to aspire to.
I've found a wonderful Facebook page which has a lot of information on lymphedema, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lymphoedema-NZ-Share-the-Experience-Share-the-Journey/228856740548231. Check it out to find research articles, blogs, videos and much more.
Update - Tuesday 23rd April 2013
As if to prove yet again that she is my favourite client, J surprised me today. We've been talking about my upcoming course and about a laser machine I'd like to buy to work on fibrotic areas of lymphatic conditions and at the end of her treatment today she came out and paid, made her next appointment and without batting an eyelid handed me a cheque towards either of my big expenses coming up! What can I say? I'm still speechless.