Oh Dear, It’s Oedema

Yesterday evening, something rather alarming happened. There I was, minding my own business, watching telly, when my T-shirt suddenly became soaking wet, in a patch from above the nipple downwards. 

I remember something similar on the occasions when I had newborn babies and the milk gushed out in excitement, but this was definitely not that. Ah well, I thought, chucking said T-shirt in the laundry basket (an excellent device: I throw dirty clothes in there and a day or so later they come back to my room clean).Fresh T-shirt on, return to couch potato duties.

An hour later, it happened again. Another change of T-shirt and a bit of a worry. But I cleaned up and it didn’t happen again.

Until this afternoon.

So I rang the breast cancer nurse for advice. This really is a most excellent piece of NHS aftercare – you have the mobile number of a nurse who helps deal with any issue or problem that comes up.

She had some questions for me: What colour is the liquid? Colourless. Does it smell at all? No. Is your breast swollen or puffy? Yes. Does your breast skin have the texture of orange peel? Now you come to mention it, yes.

Conclusion: it is oedema: a build-up of fluid under the skin as a side effect of the radiotherapy. A quick bit of Googling reveals that oedema is most common in legs and feet, and can also occur in brains, lungs and eyes. Where do I get it? My boobs. Which, to be fair, is almost certainly less unpleasant that having it in the eyes or brain.

I’d been warned of the danger of lymphoedema – but this isn’t quite that. It’s breast oedema.

I was going to go to a union meeting today. But the need to get advice on this, the pains that go with it, and – most of all – the prospect of an embarrassing leak midway through me giving a detailed report or expounding some detailed point of industrial strategy – knocked that plan on the head. I am now imagining similar embarrassing leaks midway through the various other things I do in my life: supervising my railway station (“Please stand clear of the, erm, leak”), popping to the shops, performing poetry, waiting for a bus, running training courses, … I’ll suddenly notice that no-one is looking at my face any more and know that the phantom damp patch has appeared again.

I explained this development to my 15- and 13-year-old sons, separately, and they both asked the same question: Will it kill you? No. OK – can we have kebabs for tea?

So, what next? It may go away on its own. It may not. Massaging the affected area may help. The nurse is going to discuss it with the oncologist and ring me back. It could be a long-term thing, so a long-term strategy is required.

In the meantime, I’m looking after myself to the breast of my abilities

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