40,000 Foot Perspective

As it turns out, despite my jitters of yesterday, traveling after being on Isolation Island is (fortunately!) just like riding a bicycle (Silver Lining). I hopped right back on and rolled easily.

Though I thought I had already learned this lesson, I was reminded again that there really is NO reason to worry about things that I cannot change.

For example, instead of worrying about packing (like I did yesterday), I have decided instead to be grateful that the chemo clutter in my brain finally motivated me to compile the packing list that I’ve needed for ages (because I always forget at least one thing on every trip).

As it turns out, I actually did forget to add one thing to said list: hand sanitizer. I picked some up at the airport, though.  The good news is that I did remember my suitcase (which doesn’t always happen!).

At the airport, I was so relieved not to have had a confrontation with TSA about my scarf. I harbored visions of  being requested to take it off and my having to say: Really?  No, I couldn’t possibly. Don’t make me. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Another needless worry. Lesson learned.

On the plane, my (very sweet) flight attendant said, “You’re so pretty.  Please tell me you’re not going through what I think you’re going through.”

I said: If you’re referring to cancer, then yes. I am.

Why do people hesitate to use the word?  Because it makes them uncomfortable? Do they think cancer is contagious (it’s not, by the way)?  Do they think that if they say cancer then it will make it worse?  Do they imagine that by talking about it without using the word that somehow I’ll display an unsavory emotion (e.g., sadness, anger, Chemo Sobby)?

The other day, a lady came up to me (and interrupted a conversation, by the way) and said, “What kind (cue the whisper) do you have?”  Really?

Anyway, back to the story.

After I told the the flight attendant that I do indeed have cancer, she said, “Son of a bee hive.  Whyyyyyyy (in a moan)?”

I make up a lot of sayings (e.g., easy breezy, snuggle buggle) but I could NOT have made up “son of a bee hive.” That was strong in the respectfully corny department.

How on earth to respond to people who ask “Whyyyyyy”?  Though I know that this is a rhetorical question and that people who ask are not really eliciting a data-driven response, I was speechless.  Not speechless because I didn’t have words (I nearly ALWAYS have words!) but truth be told, because I was holding back a snarky and sarcastic response (thanks to the errant steroids that I still have  rambling around in my body).

She shook her head at my silence.  And I just gave her a little smile.  Because I was biting my tongue.

One thing that I didn’t expect today was horrendous, outrageous and over the top hot flashes.  Oh my F-bomb goodness. They came faster and more furiously than at any other point in the FBC tenure. I have absolutely no idea why.  I can’t imagine that flying encourages hot flashes, but I don’t really know.


I really could have used one of these today!


What I do know is that my body temperature vacillated between a case of the sweaty Betty’s and Siberian shivers (see what I mean about the phrases?).

The heat factor is, I’m sure,  exacerbated by the fact that I am wearing a compression sleeve (extending from my right shoulder to my fingers) to prevent lymphedema.

Can I just talk about this sleeve for a second?  It feels and looks like I’m wearing Spanks on my arm. For the same reason a lady doesn’t want anyone to see her Spanks, I’m not too pleased about  revealing this compression sleeve.  It (in addition to a scarf) screams:  “Sick! Cancer! Illness!”  …and makes people whisper around me or ask about cancer without using the word.

What’s the story with the lymphedema, you ask?

Lymphedema refers to an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the tissues resulting in swelling of the arms or hands (in the case of FBC). This accumulation results in a blockage of lymphatic fluid that builds up if the problem is not addressed. Because I had 15 lymph nodes removed during my FBC surgery, I am at a higher risk for developing lymphedema.

Though not often a hot topic of conversation, the lymphatic system is a major component of the body’s immune system and critically important to the overall function of our bodies. It includes a network of lymph nodes, ducts and vessels as well as the spleen, thymus, tonsils and bone marrow that produce and transport lymph from tissues to the bloodstream.

Lymph is a clear-to-white fluid made of: white blood cells, especially lymphocytes (cells that  are important in the immune system because they attack bacteria in the blood) and fluid from the intestines called chyle, which contains proteins and fats.

Lymph nodes filter the lymph and also contain large numbers of white blood cells which remove foreign cells and debris from the lymph. When a person gets certain infections, the lymph nodes swell with billions of white blood cells working to clear the foreign cells causing the infection. The filtered lymph then flows back into the blood stream. There are about 100 nodes scattered throughout the body.

When lymph nodes are removed this processing capacity is reduced. Because the lymphatic system has no pump, special care is necessary to ensure that it functions properly.

As you know, blood is circulated by the heart. Lymph, however, does not have it’s own pump. It is circulated by the action of our muscles and deep breathing. Any added load on an altered system can present a challenge.

An example of a potential strain to the lymph system is flying.

According to the Lymphedema Network: The cabin pressure that is experienced during air flight is less than the atmospheric pressure on the ground. During flight, cabin pressure decreases from sea level to the low air pressure found at between 6,000 and 8,000 feet above sea level. The diminished pressure in the airplane cabin can result in a decrease in the fluid moved in to the lymphatic system and therefore remain in the extracellular spaces, resulting in swelling. The use of the (Spanx-like) compression garments will provide external pressure on the extremity to support favorable resorption and decrease the potential for fluid accumulation in the tissue.

Though there debate about whether flying will definitely bring on lymphedema or that wearing a compression sleeve will prevent lymphedema, at the recommendation of my doctors, I am wearing one with high hopes that it will indeed prevent lymphedema.

Even though I was nervous about flying and packing and hitting the open road by myself, I am feeling stronger and happier than I’ve felt in a long, long time.  Looking so forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones and bathing in the beautiful energy of New York (Silver Lining!).

We are most alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

– Thorton Wilder



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  1. says

    Dear Hollye. I was so happy to meet u tonight. I feel as tho we have much to talk about! A pediatric hospice nurse? I can't even imagine!!!! I went right to my computer and read about 5 of your blogs. You have inspired me! I would love to see u when u get back but le'ts keep in touch while u are gone. I liked HOTY too!
    Best luck with the radiation. I know u will find your silver linings there too!
    Pl ck out my website, when u have a chance and go to links

  2. says

    I had to laugh about your "Spanx for the arm" comment. For some reason, 2 weeks AFTER I was completely done with chemo, my feet and ankles swelled up and I had to weaer these crazy leg compressors (in the midst of August/September, mind you, so was still wearing short-ish pants) to help reduce the swelling. None of the docs were surprised, although none had warned me this was a possible side effect, and it eventually went away. But they looked like I was wearing a pair of Men's Spats and I was just so flummoxed that after all the other issues, now I had to deal with wearing these silly things. Catching up on all your posts, I've been busy. Glad to hear your trip went well, curious to hear how it all worked out. XO Claudia

  3. Diane Immethun says

    I have to laugh (or cry) as I'm suffer from chemo-brainitis too. You might appreciate this. Yesterday, when I read your packing list I was going to remind you to take HAND SANITIZER and TISSUES (don't you have runny chemo-nose) but alas I was busy or distracted (can't remember actually), so I didn't respond to you immediately and then I forgot to remind you….and so it goes.
    Thank goodness security didn't strip-search your noggin. Common sense prevailed?
    Here's to a great get-away from Isolation Island. Good girl!

  4. Kim says

    I love this post. I have a big lump in my throat. I know about the silly comments… when people become so uncomfortable and awkward. I was at a cocktail party (halfway through chemo) – just getting there was herculean… and a woman asked me how I was doing and then went on to say she felt cursed because her Mom and Dad died of cancer and two friends and now me. I responded quite emotionless – I'm not dead yet… Another woman asked me how I was managing… and I said that physically I was much better thanks, but emotionally it's still a struggle… she said… you're not telling me you're still worried it might come back are you?… I wanted to say that I wouldn't F'ing tell her if I was…or the sarcasm… no I'm being tested for cancer every three months… but I'm not worried in the least!!!! Hang in there Hollye and if you feel overwhelmed on this trip – you're hotel room is always there and you can curl up and get away from it all anytime you please!!!
    Love Kim xx

  5. Carol Harrington Riv says

    About the compression sleeve….. just like the athletes who wear them for their muscles and better overall- performance – you are doing the same; your body's better overall-performance! However, yours is a bit more important, regarding the long haul of life. Wear it with pride, knowing that it is necessary for your health, and flash that smile of yours at anyone that has the audacity to stare. You don't need their pity, but apparently they may NEED your smile! 🙂

    Call me sometime and I will tell you a story about what your Aunt Maggie experienced, during her battle with breast cancer. Her response to someone was very "unMaggie-like", but don't know if I have ever been more proud of her!!!!!!!!

    Be well and love you,