My Favorite Thing After Cancer Part 1

I change in the locker room, slip into my flipflops, grab my towel and walk expectantly over to the dressing room door. Opening my way into the lap pool area, I am hit with the smell of chlorine and then a moment of delight. The pool is empty! This is one of my favorite things, especially after cancer.

I remember the moment 9 years ago when I was finally released by my doctor to swim. Submerged in the empty pool, my body released its constriction and stretched, weightless and pushing against the water. It was bliss, and also deeply emotional as I cried under water feeling relief, gratitude, and joy, releasing some of the great sorrow from my recent mastectomy and lymph node removal. To feel pleasure in my body, to move freely and know I had survived thus far, this moment was mine to revel in.

I jumped and curled into a somersault like the thousands I did as a child in Houston, Texas during the summer.

These days, I swim at least once a week at my neighborhood Gold’s Gym. Sometimes the pool is crowded and I have to avoid classes and aggressive men with flippers and paddles who, without awareness, could injure my arm or chest.

My speed is steady, not fast. Swimming (especially backstroke) has been the most effective therapy for my lymphedema. Afterwards, my arm no longer aches, the swelling is barely visible, and my mood is considerably improved.

I wish everyone with lymphedema had access to a pool. The lymphatic massage of the water is healing. You don’t even have to know how to swim – just moving the arms back and forth against the water is enough.

This week I read a comment on a cancer survivor support group from a young woman, a yogi, sharing her delight with people who understood. After months of recovering from a double mastectomy, she was able to do the downward facing dog yoga pose for the first time. She described the bliss of the deep stretch and her joy at being able to finally support her own weight again.

She felt strong, she felt relief, and she felt joy.


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  • Linda Griesel

    Kelly – thank you for sharing such a personal experience. Your joy in swimming washed like waves over me as I read this! I feel the same way about swimming and pools are part of my safest and happiest childhood memories. I cancelled my YMCA membership (which I had primarily for the pool) last month after realizing I hadn’t used it in months. My osteoarthritis in my knee had worsened so that I couldn’t see how I could get in and out of the pool anymore, and my pride kept me from imagining asking for help, using a cane, or showing what I perceived as my weakness.

    Today I scheduled knee replacement surgery to get back that quality of life that has been missing from my life since I found that lump in my breast 3 1/2 years ago, and I intend to get back in that pool as soon as my doctor clears me. Than you for sharing, and sat nam! Linda

  • Guruatma Khalsa

    There’s NOTHING more supportive than the embrace of cooling waters upon a healing body, mind and soul
    ….by my experience of it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Indra.

    I love it when the pool is all mine, too – Dolphin Time!

    • mm
      Kelly Inselmann

      Yes! Dolphin time!

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