The Emotional Toll of Lymphedema

the emotional toll of lymphedemaDealing With A Chronic Disease

I heard the other day that dealing with a chronic illness, like lymphedema, is similar to dealing with a great loss. Whether you are a therapist or a person dealing with lymphedema it’s important to recognize the emotional toll this disease can take. It is a loss! The loss of a way of life that was known and now has to be adjusted and adapted to deal with this chronic disease. Recognizing the stages of grief can better help you deal with a chronic illness like lymphedema and the emotional toll it takes.


Five Stages Of Grief And Loss

You are most likely familiar with Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief and loss: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Understanding and acknowledging these five stages of loss can help you and your patient navigate this difficult journey of living with a chronic illness. Sometimes it does take a village, and all the tools in the tool box, to pull together and combat a chronic illness like lymphedema.


Denial is often classified as the first of the five stages. However, these stages can actually come in any order as we all process our grief and loss differently. In this stage the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense! It may be difficult just to get through the day. Denial helps us to get through the grief, pacing it, so that we are better able to handle the loss.

Anger The emotional toll of lymphedema

Then we get into the anger, and it’s important to feel that anger. When you deny anger it festers and does not heal. Feeling, expressing, embracing, and releasing your anger, brings us to a place of healing. I’ve witnessed this stage many times in my business, especially with cancer patients. Having beat the cancer and now having to deal with lymphedema brings up a lot of anger.


We then get into the bargaining! “If only…” or “what if…” statements plague our thoughts.  Bargaining has to do with guilt and trying to find a way to go back. We want life to return to how it used to be, before the chronic disease took over.


After the bargaining comes the depression! Grief enters our life on a deeper level, sometimes deeper than we The emotional toll of lymphedemacould have imagined. It’s important to note that this grief will not last forever, and that it is not a sign of mental illness. It’s an appropriate response to a loss and should be accepted and acknowledged as such. If grief is a process of healing then depression is a necessary step to that healing. This is another step that I recognize and have dealt with several times in my profession. It is so very difficult to accept that this is your new reality and that you truly have lost the way of life you once knew, and therefore have to accept, change and adapt to a new way of life.


Acceptance is sometimes confused with the idea that now we’re okay with our circumstances. This is not the case. Most people are never going to feel okay with having to deal with a chronic illness that takes a toll on their lifestyle and their life. This stage is about accepting that this is your new life and that you have to deal with it. We may never like this reality, but we learn to live with it. We begin to live again, but only after we have given grief and loss it’s due.

Living Your Best Life

Whether you are the one dealing with the chronic disease, the caregiver or the therapist, it’s important to recognize the emotional toll that can take place in dealing with lymphedema. Take the time to manage your illness, self care is essential as well as exercise. Have patience with yourself and the process.

The emotional toll of lymphedema

Allow yourself the time to grieve and the time to heal, so that you can come to a place of acceptance where you can live your best life ever!

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