A major hurdle for anyone with lymphedema is figuring out that you have lymphedema. Diagnosis can take months, even years, due to a lack of knowledge, research and awareness in the medical community. It took entirely too long for me to get an accurate diagnosis, and it might have taken a lot longer without the help of my dad.
Although I was a grown adult at the time and living in New York City (hours away from my parents), mom and dad were both actively involved in my life and in trying to solve the mystery behind the sudden swelling in my leg.
When I came home for Christmas, four months after my leg first ballooned I still had no diagnosis, no treatment, no plan. My Dad, however, had not been idle. He had researched my symptoms through his own channels and online. During my visit, he unceremoniously handed me a medical newsletter he had discovered. In it was a description that matched my symptoms – “a feeling of heaviness and tightness in the affected limb accompanied by achiness.” I had used similar words to describe how I had felt! For the first time, these words were coupled with a name – lymphedema. And another word: incurable.
Lowering myself onto the corner of an ottoman in our living room, I sobbed. As a 23-year old woman, I could not yet comprehend the permanence of my new medical reality. All I knew was that, after months of questions, my dad had given me an answer. Not the doctors. Not the hospitals. My dad.
Thank God for Dads. They don’t sugarcoat. Dads generally give it to you straight. While mothers sometimes try to bolster your ego and shield you from life’s ills, fathers feed you heavy doses of reality before lovingly turning you out into the world.
Dad and me after our dance at my wedding in 2005.
I realize now that those early life lessons from my dad prepared me to cope with lymphedema in practical and meaningful ways.
A former Washington, D.C. policeman turned lawyer, my dad can smell a phony from a mile away. And he taught me never to take nonsense from anyone. This has come in handy during my many visits with doctors who didn’t know or understand about lymphedema.
An enthusiastic card player, my dad taught me you can’t always choose the hand you’ve been dealt, but you can choose how you play the hand. I try to remember that as I make daily choices living with lymphedema in dignity.
My dad has always been a people person. He encouraged me to meet as many people as possible and (literally) taught me the meaning of the word networking. In fact, the information that lead to my diagnosis came from a contact he made at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.