Rafa Ready

This morning, I woke up a little grumpy. At first I didn’t realize why.  What is THIS about, I wondered. Well, I became conscious of the fact that my Oscar the Grouchiness was because I have chemo tomorrow.  F-bomb.  I thought to myself that I’ve only had a handful of good days this month and I was just not ready to give them up – again.

However, I stopped myself and thought:  all I have is this moment.  I can choose how I feel about it.  I can either focus on the perceived negative, which is chemo tomorrow OR I can focus all of my attention, every bit of energy on enjoying this day. Well, you know what I chose.

As a result, today has been a magnificent, Silver Lined day all the way around! After I changed my attitude, the day (re)started with a leg hug from Finally Five and escalated from there.

The highlight (well, in addition to having a date night with The HOTY, a/k/a Husband of the Year) was for the first time in nearly 6 months, I played TENNIS.

A dear friend is almost as excited as I am about playing. He even monogrammed a tennis ball for me! Thank you SS!

Oh, joy of joy’s!  I was completely giddy and literally had tears of happiness running down my face as I walked on to the tennis court.  It literally felt like a homecoming!

Now, I am not exactly what you would call a great player.  Far from it.  But I LOVE to play. And seeing improvement is fun. As is learning stratergie (thank you GW for that word that I use A LOT!).

Here’s the kicker about today’s tennis:  in addition to the joy of just stepping on the court,  for the first time in my life, I played LEFT-HANDED.

Truth be told, I eat and write left-handed, but do everything, absolutely everything else right-handed (including, until today, playing tennis).

Why on earth, you ask, did I decide to try playing tennis left-handed? Well, FBC has influenced this change in my game (shocker!). It’s called (the potential for) lymphedema. Let me back up a little bit and explain.

Our bodies have a network of lymph nodes and lymph vessels that collect and carry watery, clear lymph fluid. Lymph fluid contains proteins, salts, and water, as well as white blood cells, which help fight infections.

In the lymph vessels, valves work with body muscles to help move the fluid through the body. Lymph nodes are small collections of tissue that work as filters for harmful substances and help us fight infection.

During surgery for breast cancer, my surgeon removed a handful of lymph nodes. When lymph nodes are removed, the lymph vessels that carry fluid from the arm to the rest of the body are also removed because they are wrapped around the nodes.

Removing lymph nodes and vessels changes the way the lymph fluid flows in that side of the upper body (in my case, the right side of my body). This makes it harder for fluid in the chest, breast, and arm to flow out of this area. If the remaining lymph vessels cannot drain enough fluid from these areas, the excess fluid builds up and causes swelling, a/k/a lymphedema. NOT GOOD.

Once lymphedema has started, it cannot be cured. But early and careful management can reduce symptoms and help keep it from getting worse. Such early management includes not overusing an arm, as well as not engaging in vigorous, repeated activities.

This is where tennis comes in.  It is the epitome of vigorous, repeated movements.

Now, this is not to say that I won’t use my arm.  Of course I will.  I certainly need to regain the strength (because they are uber-flabby right now!).  But the way I will rebuild will not be by 1000’s of tennis balls in a row using my right arm.

So, several months ago, instead of being dissuaded from ever picking up a tennis racket again, I decided to be creative.

It helped that I had many middle-of-the-night encounters with Rafa Nadal (unfortunately only on the television).I figured that if Rafa Nadal managed to change from being a right handed amateur tennis player into the most-feared, left-handed champion in the world, I could give it a go!

Fabulous Rafa photo courtesy of Kailas Images, Joe Lindstrom


Rafa’s Uncle Toni (who is also his coach) tells the story of how he convinced Rafa to make the switch from playing right-handed to left-handed when he was nine years old, believing it would give him an advantage over his competitors.

The irony is that, to this day, playing tennis is the only thing that Rafa does left handed. He uses his right hand to throw, write and even brush his teeth (don’t ask how I know that!).

So, my time on the court today reflects my philosophy about being bald:

It ain’t beautiful, but it ain’t bad either.

While I had many shots that looked like they belonged in Finally Five’s Pee-Wee tennis clinic, I did manage to hit a few nice ones.  Shockingly nice, considering it was the first time I ever held a racquet in my left hand.

Tomorrow, I have chemo again.  But in the meantime, I am holding this feeling of joy (and HITTING balls HARD) near and dear to my heart.  Chemo surely cannot take that away!

And THANK YOU, FBC, for this gift that is learning to play left-handed (SL)!

Tennis begins with love.

~Author Unknown


Leave a Reply to Deborah Granieri Cancel reply


  1. Deborah Granieri says

    I read this and I had to reply. I always loved the game of tennis. Since my Breast Cancer and 2 surgeries later, chemo, radiation, and hormone therapy, I have had problems with my arms. They had to build up the strength muscle tone again, I guess. I am now doing more, but have been afraid to hit the tennis courts; worried of being so embarresed. After reading your info, I think I just might find the strength I need to go on a court and just play around with the tennis ball and racket. At least it is a NEW beginning. I miss it so much! Thanks for listening, and continue to do what you do best! Deb

    • says

      Thanks so much for your comment, Deborah! I'm so excited to hear that you may try tennis again! I have to say that my love of the game overshadowed any insecurity about how ridiculous I looked on the court. Being out there made my heart and soul so happy…and also was some comic relief at times!

  2. D Northfelt says

    You are aware of the recent research findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association, that shows that exercise of the affected arm, if anything, REDUCES the risk for lymphedema? First author of both papers is K Schmitz of University of Pennsylvania.