Coping with lymphoedema
Lymphoedema can cause physical and emotional strain, so it’s important to look after your wellbeing. Having lymphoedema can affect how you feel about yourself (self-esteem) in several ways, including:
- body image – you may be self-conscious about the swelling and how you look; or you may have trouble finding suitable clothes and footwear, which can affect how you feel about yourself
- sexuality and intimacy – you may lose interest in sex, or you may feel that any visible changes make you less attractive and worry others will reject you
- depression – the chronic nature of lymphoedema may mean you feel overwhelmed by the ongoing treatment and by the permanent reminder of having had cancer
- social isolation – you may avoid work and social activities because of worry about how you look or because you find it difficult to move around.
It is natural to focus on the part of your body that has changed. Give yourself time to get used to any physical changes. You may experience a wide variety of emotions, including anger, anxiety and resentment. Everyone has their own way of coping with their emotions. Some people find it helpful to talk with family and friends, while others seek professional help from a counsellor. You may find it helpful to talk with other people who are dealing with lymphoedema.
If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or no longer do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. Talk to your GP as counselling or medicines may help. For information about coping with depression and anxiety, call 1300 22 4636 or visit Beyond Blue.
Anya Traill, Head, Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dawn Bedwell, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD; Gillian Buckley, Senior Physiotherapist – Lymphoedema, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Asha Heydon-White, Senior Physiotherapist and Lymphoedema Therapist, MQ Health Lymphoedema Clinic, ALERT – Australian Lymphoedema Education Research and Treatment, Macquarie University, NSW; Prof Sharon Kilbreath, Deputy Dean, Academic, Discipline of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, NSW; Pamela Lamont, Consumer; Prof Neil Piller, Vice Chair, International Lymphoedema Framework, Director, Lymphoedema Clinical Research Unit, Patron, Lymphoedema Support Group SA; Hildegard Reul-Hirche, Physiotherapist, QLD.
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