Read Ruth's story in the first of our #ResilienceInLymphoedema series to mark Lymphoedema Awareness Week:
I'm Ruth and I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and again in 2008, with two lots of surgery, chemo and radiotherapy on my left side.
I didn't develop lymphoedema until 5 years later. It started very gradually - the first sign was when I noticed my left arm looked bigger. I was referred to the lymphoedema clinic where I was diagnosed with mild LD and given an arm sleeve.
All remained stable for about 15 months when quite suddenly (and frighteningly) on Christmas Eve of 2014 it started swelling quite badly and aching too. I got an emergency appointment with the LD nurse on 2nd January and entered a period of trying to get it under control. At this point I was very, very miserable - it felt like a deformity and I just wanted to hide! Various treatments were tried including taping and lymphatic drainage massage (which I paid for privately).
Since then it has been up and down. I found that working at the computer made it worse (and probably triggered the sudden worsening) so I try to take regular breaks and stretch my arm. Ready-wrap is wonderful when it flares badly but bulky, so I now rely mainly on my compression sleeve and a morning self-massage routine.
The support group L-W-O has been extremely helpful to me. I have now largely come to terms with it and it is just part of who I am and a small price to pay for still being here. I try to always look after my arm - no lifting and always keeping it well moisturised.
One of the things that I found difficult was other people's reactions to my arm sleeve. I often get asked what I've done to my arm. My answer varies from "don't ask!" to "it's holding my arm on!". I find the black arm sleeve easier to wear (in terms of my vanity) than the beige.
The photos are of me wearing my sleeve (my LD is currently fairly stable). I am lucky that at present my hand is unaffected.
To anyone just starting out on this journey I'd like to say that whilst LD is unlikely to "get better" it is liveable with and can improve.