The Emotional Toll of Lymphedema

Dealing With A Chronic DiseaseThe emotional toll of lymphedema

I heard the other day that dealing with a chronic illness, like lymphedema, is similar to dealing with a significant loss. Whether you are a therapist or a person dealing with lymphedema, it’s essential 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. But, unfortunately, sometimes it does take a village, and all the tools in the toolbox, to pull together and combat a chronic disease like lymphedema.

Emotional toll of a chronic disease Denial

Denial is often classified as the first of the five stages. However, these stages can 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 not be easy to get through the day. Denial helps us get through the grief, pacing it to handle the loss better.

Then we get into the anger, and it’s essential to feel it. 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 often witnessed this stage in my business, especially with cancer patients. Having beaten cancer and dealing with lymphedema brings up a lot of anger.


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


After the bargaining comes the depression! Grief enters our lives on a deeper level, sometimes more profound than we The emotional toll of lymphedemacould have imagined. It’s important to note that this grief will not last forever and is not a sign of mental illness. It’s an appropriate response to a loss and should be accepted and acknowledged. If grief is a healing process, 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 difficult to accept that this is your new reality! You truly have lost the way of life you once knew and therefore had to admit, 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 must 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 been given grief and loss its due.

Living Your Best Life

Whether you are dealing with a chronic disease, the caregiver, or the therapist, it’s essential to recognize the emotional toll of dealing with lymphedema. Take the time to manage your illness; self-care is necessary. Following your treatment plan, regular exercise, skin care, eating healthy, and wearing your compression garments are excellent places to begin. Have patience with yourself and the process.

Allow yourself the time to grieve and heal so that you can come to a place of acceptance where you can live your best life and know that you are not alone! Reach out; there are many sources for support when dealing with lymphedema.

The emotional toll of lymphedema

Disclaimer – This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, the information contained in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice – always consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice on your specific condition.

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