My body had a message for me recently.

It was about lymphedema, a condition I’ve had since being treated for cancer several years ago. Lymphedema can cause mild to severe swelling and discomfort in my hand and arm. 

Surgery and radiation treatment for cancer is the most common cause of lymphedema. They often damage the lymphatic system, which is an admirably clever part of our body’s immune, fluid regulation and fat absorption systems.

Mine was diagnosed shortly after surgery, and has been under excellent control, with no swelling at all for years. But last week, I noticed swelling and discomfort in my arm and hand. 

Clearly, my body was telling me something, but what was its message? I needed to listen.

How Do You  “Listen to Your Body”?

Our bodies send messages all the time, signaling that things are okay, or that they’re not so great. The not-so-great messages are often subtle at first. If we don’t listen, they escalate until we’re forced to do something about them.

That’s happened to me, and it’s no fun. I didn’t want to repeat that mistake, so this time I reminded myself to pay attention, to observe without getting overly worried, and to use my body’s messages as a guide. Clearly, something was going on. My body – that is, I, since after all my body is a part of my self – deserve attention and compassionate care.

These questions helped me listen to my body’s message, and decide what to do:

• What am I noticing in my body?
• What messages is my mind receiving?
• Why might this be happening?
• What emotions am I feeling?
• What can I do to take care of myself?
• Do I need help from someone else?

Writing my responses helped me me organize my observations, pay attention to my emotions, and recognize the possible role of stress in this symptom flare. There’s certainly no shortage of stress during this time of pandemic, political turmoil, and social unrest. 

I figured out what I can do in the way of self-help. After a couple of days, I could see that these measures helped, but things still weren’t back to normal. It was clearly time to call on the experts and I now have appointments with my wonderful massage therapist and my equally fabulous lymphedema specialist at GBMC. 

Now, I’m assigning myself one more exercise. I wonder what I can learn by using this flare as a metaphor. If the lymphatic system is about balance, absorption of what is beneficial, and release of what is toxic, what might the spiritual message be?

I’ll use my regular writing and self-Reiki practices to see what comes up when I consider this question.

Adapt Liberally

You can use these questions to decipher all sorts of messages from your body. Try them out, alter the questions as needed, and if you’re inclined, let me know what you discover! 


Photo: NL Seibel, 2020

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