My intimate relationship with my lymph system

By | Sun March 31, 2019

I didn’t know what a swollen lymph node felt like. When I went through treatment, I didn’t have any known lymph involvement. I hadn’t really even heard of the lymphatic system before cancer. Now I am always aware of it.

First, it was lymphedema in my left arm – which caused my hand an arm to swell. My lymph system wasn’t draining properly. However, I didn’t have any swollen nodes. Just some clogging in the flow – which took 6 months of wearing compression and swimming 2-3 times per week to resolve. I’m thankful that it did resolve.

When I got back from Ontario last Friday I developed a cold. Ugg. Yet another cold. Most annoying. Add to it that it rained most of the week – which did nothing to help my mood.

Then on Wednesday night, as I was chatting with my students on a synchronous session I noticed a lump in my neck. This is first time I’ve felt a swollen lymph node that wasn’t in my glands. I often have swollen glands – but this was new. This was something I had not felt before. Of course, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Now I am hyper-tuned to my lymph nodes, so I notice when I suddenly develop a lump in my neck.

Luckily, I was already heading up to the cancer centre for a different appointment, and my surgeons physician assistant was able to fit me in. She was not at all concerned. The cold is likely the contributing factor. It will likely resolve itself. She did a thorough breast exam and validated that she felt nothing awry in my axial nodes (under arms – which is the most concerning area for breast cancer – that and the sternum and clavicle). She said they didn’t feel suspicious. If they stick around for a month or so we can follow up with an ultrasound – unless I wanted one now, but she didn’t see the need for it. I agreed to give it two weeks – and now I’m convincing myself that the lump is getting smaller and softer. I’m not sure it that is true, but I’m working on convincing myself it is.

The emotional toll seems to never stop. As much as I try to convince myself – and use my mantra – “in the absence of a diagnosis, I am health” – my mind still gets the better of me at times.

I can now say that I know what a swollen lymph node feels like, and once it goes away, I’ll be able to release any underlying stress associated with it. And next time, hopefully, it will mean just a little less stress. It seems that there is always a next time.

Feature image is a sunny day in my neighbourhood with a beautiful California Lilac in full bloom. It has nothing to do with lymph nodes, but it makes me smile.

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