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The 100 day challenge: what I learned

I finished the 100 day challenge in the middle of October, the day before we left for a visit to our friends in Denmark.  I’m so sorry not to have got round to writing this up sooner.

To recap, this was a challenge I set myself as part of my (self-designed) programme to improve the condition of my leg affected by lymphoedema.

The background is that my leg became much worse in February when Malcolm and I were away on holiday and walking around  (just exploring a city new to us) a lot every day.  My leg swelled, became red and uncomfortable, and nothing I did seemed to help.  The stocking I had been prescribed seemed not to help at all, in fact if anything it was making my upper leg worse. This deterioration sparked my return to my GP when I got home.  I needed a course of antibiotics to deal with an infection in the leg, and the deterioration left me feeling quite despondent about my future health.

This though turned out to be A Good Thing, because it forced me to question the treatment I had received and to read up for myself about lymphoedema – something that until then I had neglected to do.  What I learnt shocked and worried me – the ‘treatment’ prescribed thus far was inappropriate, ineffective, and not recommended; further ‘treatment’ with a prescription of diuretics could have been positively harmful had I followed it.

The upshot of all of this was that, supported by everything I read on the excellent website provided by the Lymphoedema Support Network and other information I found on the internet, I was able to return to my GP and ask for a referral to the specialist community clinic in our area.  And thank goodness for this – the GP was very helpful and receptive, and once I had the clinic appointment I received excellent advice and  treatment from a wonderful, knowledgeable and experienced specialist nurse, who measured and fitted me with a made-to-measure full leg pressure garment.  I also found someone local qualified to provide a specialist form of massage (Manual Lymphatic Drainage).  And I have learnt the importance of regular exercise, in combination with wearing the correct pressure garment.

So – the challenge was to make sure that exercise is an integral part of my everyday life.  I decided on at least 1 hour a day of something reasonably demanding.  Things I have read encouraged me to think that if I could follow this regime for 100 days, it would become a normal habitual part of my life, and something I would just do without thinking too hard about it.

I chose a range of exercise: walking, running, swimming and cycling.  I set up an off-peak membership of our local (municipal) swimming pool, which brought with it the benefit of gym membership.  Each visit to the swimming pool/gym entails a 50 minute round walk, so before I’ve even set foot in the pool I’ve already done most of my hour.

What I found was that:

  • I pushed myself to do at least an hour of some kind of exercise every day.  I only missed 14 days in all.  I was satisfied with that – there were plenty of days when I did far more than just an hour, so I more than compensated for the missed days
  • I’ve learnt what works for me and what doesn’t.  When I’m at home, walking and swimming are usually my go-to activities.  When I’m away, I walk so much every day that clocking up an hour is rarely a challenge
  • I can do more than I imagine I can – I swam a mile for the first time in my life.  Yay me!
  • When most days are days when I’m active for at least an hour, occasional missed days really don’t matter too much

The pressure stocking has had a fantastic effect – my affected leg started at 60% larger than the unaffected one.  In just 6 months the swelling has reduced to 42%.  As the swelling has reduced, I’ve been prescribed smaller stockings.  I’m on to my 4th different prescription now.  Best of all, instead of walking making it worse, it now seems positively beneficial.  Exercise is a crucial part of the healing/maintenance regime.  I try to treat it as I would a prescription of some kind of magic medicine – that is, I make sure I don’t miss.

I’m convinced that setting myself this challenge has been a really effective way of getting into the way of it.  It’s definitely an approach I will use in future, if the need arises.

One Comment to The 100 day challenge: what I learned

  1. L. Duncan says:

    I have had lymphedema for 50+ years now. Both my daughter and son have it (Yay genetics!). My brother and his daughter also have it. We have had more fights with cellulitis than we can count. I will give you some good advice that I hope you will follow forever. WEAR some sort of flip-flops or beach shoes anywhere that other people’s feet touch. So wear it in the locker room of the pool, into the showers, all the way out to the pool side. You WILL catch somebody’s germs and that leads to cellulitis! Wears flips flops in hotel baths and showers, friends’houses, and wear them on the beach (sand creates micro cuts). If you ever find yourself needing them, but don’t have them, wrap plastic bags around your feet and walk carefully. DO NOT BELIEVE anyone who tells you that “My bathroom is clean!”
    Second piece of advice – when you get out of bath, dry between your toes! and then put Neosporin between them. This action alone cuts my cellulitis incidence from 4 times a year to about once every 4 years.
    Third and last – If you are traveling, take a prescription of antibiotics with you. If you feel that your legs are red or hot or you feel like crap start taking the antibiotics right away. Cellulitis is incredibly fast (a couple of hours of waiting can land you in the hospital for weeks) and incredibly dangerous. Now that you have had cellulitis, you can expect to get it again, and again, and it gets worse and worse!
    Good Luck to you.

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