From the time my alarm clock goes off in the morning to the moment I shut my eyes at night, I am constantly reminded that I have lymphedema in my legs. When my bare feet touch the plush rug on my bedroom floor and I sleepily stagger to the bathroom to brush my teeth, I savor every step. I think to myself, “God, this feels good.” Spreading my toes a little wider as I stride back across the hard wood floor in the hallway, I try to push out of my mind the thought that within minutes I will once again be encased from my toes up to my waist in compression stockings. My iron legs, as I call them.
It’s the little things that slap me with the “lymphedema reality check” throughout the day. Getting caught in an office conversation that’s taking a little longer than my legs can stand and wondering how I can gracefully find a chair to sit in. Pulling my stockings up in the bathroom and smoothing out the compression using rubber gloves, embarrassed that the ladies in the stalls next to me can hear the strange noises I’m making. Catching myself gazing a little too long at another woman’s bare feet in a pair of sandals and longing to have just one day that I can walk around and feel the air on my naked legs and feet.
But there is one place I can go, at least for a little while, where I feel normal – and that is in the swimming pool. The water surrounding my limbs provides natural compression. No stockings required. I can slip into a lap lane next to a perfectly healthy person and swim just as long and stand just as long – sometimes longer.
The sensation is so intoxicating that I wake up at 5:30 a.m. to get to the gym, because that is the only time I can fit it into my schedule. I’m in the pool by 6:30 a.m., finish my workout by 7:00 a.m. and am at work by 9:00 a.m. Sure, the exercise is good for me. It helps keep my weight down and my lymphatic fluid flowing without any strain on my joints. But I’m counting more than calories, I’m counting minutes of freedom. The only other time I feel this liberated is in my dreams at night. While I sleep, I never have lymphedema. My legs are always bare, healthy and normal.
Access to a swimming pool and establishing a swimming routine is not easy or easily affordable, I know. It took me nearly 15 years to figure out a good situation. But I finally did it. And so can you. Swim. Swim not only because it helps your lymphedema, but because – for a brief time – it makes you forget you have it.