Being a cancer survivor has ongoing downsides. These include lasting physical issues that you have to contend with.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s much that I’m grateful for: successful treatment, expert and compassionate health care; the loving support of family and friends; meaningful work; the things my body is able to continue to do.

I take none of these things for granted. But I want to be real about the struggles that persist, even a year after treatment is completed.

Lymphedema is one of the things that I continue to deal with. Its pretty common in those whose treatment involves lymphectomy and radiation.

Much of the time it’s under good control, but I’ve been getting flares every few months. I would love to be able to prevent them, or at least reduce how often they happen.

Kelly Indra Inselmann recently shared a blog post about spending time in a pool. It’s something she loves, and, she mentions, it helps relieve her lymphedema. My lymphedema specialist agreed that it would be a good thing to try.

Okay, then! I already belong to a gym with a pool. I have everything else I need. There was every reason to give it a try, and nothing to lose. But even with all this going for me, weeks went by and I still hadn’t done it.  What was stopping me?

Readiness for Change

It was as if some big barrier stood between me and that pool. This is what I kept saying to myself.

  • It takes so much time.
  • I hate being in chlorinated indoor pools.
  • The pool schedule is inconvenient.

But none of that was the real problem. The problem was that I wasn’t ready for this change. I had to give myself time and I needed to figure out what was getting in the way. Eventually the truth surfaced.

And that truth was….

I am sad and mad about the need to do this.

I wasn’t resisting water exercise. I was resisting accepting this reality: I have a chronic physical problem that may well be with me for life.

All right, I decided, that’s no fun, but that’s how it is. It might take me a while to really come to terms with this. But maybe it’s time give this water exercise thing a try. Two days later I was in the pool. I’ll tell you in a minute how that went, but first this.

Self-Compassion and Change

A lot of what you read about how to change behavior is of either the formulaic or the motivational “just do it” variety. These approaches work for many, but for whatever reason they don’t work for me. Maybe that’s true for you as well.

My story suggests that using what I think of as “compassionate self-discipline” might be more helpful in transitioning from resistant to ready.

1. Give yourself time. Readiness doesn’t always appear overnight, even when there’s every  reason to make a change. Accept your resistance as natural, and help yourself move through it.

2. Give yourself compassionate messages. Include in your messages the vision of ultimately making the change. “You will start going to the pool, once you’re ready. You’re not ready just yet. That’s okay. You eventually will be ready.”

3. Ask yourself questions. Just as you might ask a friend some thought-provoking, open-ended questions to help her through a change, do the same for yourself. Then listen to the response. “What do you think the real barrier is?” Or “What would help you make this change?”

4. Accept your skepticism. If you’re verging on ready to make the change, accept that you still have doubts. Acknowledge any reservations, while still supporting yourself in taking the next step. “It’s true that you might hate this and never want to do it again. In that case, you don’t have to! But it seems like something that’s worth trying.”

5. Be patiently persistent. You might have repeat steps 1-4 a few (or more!) times before you’re ready to actually try out the change.

6.Try a low-risk experiment. Set up an easy to execute plan, where you have little to lose if it doesn’t go well. Give it a try and see how it goes. Let the results guide you in taking next steps.

How My Experiment Worked Out

I did my water workout in the lanes reserved at certain times for family swim. That meant I was surrounded by parents who were there with their babies and young children. What fun! Especially as so many new babies are due in our family within the next few months. It was like a delightful preview of what’s to come. As my niece said, “It’s babies everywhere!”

I can’t say yet if being in the pool will decrease lymphedema flares, but I can say it felt good. That’s already a success.

Let me know if you use a similar process, or think this one might work for you.

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