Kathy Bates admits she's 'grateful for every moment'
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With a strong family history of breast cancer, when Bates was told she had a tumour in her left breast she did not hesitate to have a double mastectomy. “Take them both off. I wasn’t taking any chances,” she is reported saying in a previous interview. Even after overcoming breast cancer Bates’ health ordeal was far from over after she developed a lesser-known condition known as lymphedema – a long-term swelling of the limbs caused by a problem with the lymphatic system.
“Breast cancer runs like a river through my family. My mother and niece had it; my aunt died of it, carbamazepine in pregnancy wiki ” Bates continued to explain.
“Then I got something called lymphedema.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but for cancer, they remove lymph nodes. If your lymph system is damaged, often times, the fluid will back up in the affected limb.”
The actress, who is also known for her work in American Horror Story, went on to say that the condition started as soon she woke up from her mastectomy surgery. Explaining her anger, she said: “When I woke up, I immediately felt something strange, a kind of tingling in my left arm.
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“I went berserk. I left the examining room and ran out of the building. I still had my drains in, I was holding a pillow to my t*ts, and I thought, ‘What am I doing? It’s July, I’m standing out here, it’s hot, I’m still healing, I don’t want to hurt anything.’
“I was mad as hell. I think it was the culmination of having been through cancer twice and realising that now I’d have this condition, this lifelong souvenir.
“I was bitter, I was depressed. I thought my career was over, I thought, ‘There’s no way, I’m done, everything is done.”
The NHS warns that lymphoedema requires treatment as soon as possible in order to stop it from getting any worse, if left untreated other limbs can start to swell.
There are two main types of lymphoedema:
- Primary lymphoedema – caused by faulty genes that affect the development of the lymphatic system; it can develop at any age, but usually starts during infancy, adolescence, or early adulthood.
- Secondary lymphoedema – caused by damage to the lymphatic system or problems with the movement and drainage of fluid in the lymphatic system; it can be the result of a cancer treatment, an infection, injury, inflammation of the limb, or a lack of limb movement.
Additional symptoms that can spread to parts of the body can include the following:
- An aching, heavy feeling
- Difficulty with movement
- Repeated skin infections
- Hard, tight skin
- Folds developing in the skin
- Wart-like growths developing on the skin
- Fluid leaking through the skin.
After Bates went public about her struggle with the condition, she became a national spokesperson for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network in the US.
From there she also featured on the cover of NIH MedlinePlus magazine where she gave an update on her recovery process at the time.
She shared: “My lymphedema (LE) is under control. I’ve lost about 80 pounds over the last few years, which has helped a lot with the swelling in my arms, but I still wear my compression sleeves if I’m flying or if I’m doing strenuous tasks.
“I like to be self-sufficient, so before I know it, my arms are inflamed and painful. However, I’m luckier than most who have LE. I can afford the doctor’s visits, compression garments, and therapy. Many people can’t.”
Speaking about how she now maintains her health and energy, the 74-year-old said she tries to pace herself and now enjoys gardening, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Giving advice to others who may be suffering with lymphedema, Bates added: “To give someone meaningful comfort without physical connection is hard. The platitudes like ‘don’t lose hope’ or ‘try not to get depressed’ seem so cliché.
“For the day-to-day battle, I would advise gathering the courage to get out and live your life no matter the severity of your disease. Going out in public wearing a compression garment, especially when people aren’t educated about LE, can sometimes be more painful than the disease itself. However, hiding at home and living a sedentary life will only make things worse for your body and brain.
“As my other niece says, ‘Motion is lotion.’ Other people’s stares may hurt at first, but they have no power to define us as people. We have lymphedema. We’re not lymphedema. Reclaim your life. Get used to being in public so you can live your life to the fullest. Most of all, don’t withdraw from your family and friends. Keep them close. We’re all dealing with something, especially these days.”
With lymphoedema thought to affect more than 200,000 people in the UK, treatment can help to avoid causing further damage to the lymph nodes. Although the condition cannot be cured, it is possible to control the main symptoms using techniques to minimise fluid build-up.
These mainly include wearing compression garments, taking good care of your skin, moving and exercising regularly, having a healthy diet and lifestyle, and using specialised massage techniques to help stimulate the flow of fluid through the lymphatic system.
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