Healing my Lymphedema: part 1

Healing my lymphedema-2One September 19, a little girl was born without fanfare in Chicago's Swedish Covenant Hospital. I was the first child born to my parents and the first grandchild for my maternal grandmother. Their joy, however, was tinged by a reality they must face.

suzanneDoctors huddled around the infant, their tongues buzzing, as they wondered aloud at why the child had two swollen feet. Even stranger, the swelling in the child's left foot seemed to be evaporating, while the right foot remained swollen. Their prognosis was dutifully delivered to the concerned parents: your child likely has Turner's Syndrome, meaning she would be mentally challenged, short of stature, and sterile. A nurse even mentioned to my parents that there are institutions to help care for children like me. They balked: God had given them this child, and they would be the ones to care for her.

We moved to Michigan eleven days later, and my parents dutifully took me for testing at Michigan State University. Six weeks later, the results arrived: no Turner's. What then, did I have? And why? 

Though hard to believe, in many ways we still don't have those answers today. TRULY.

I was diagnosed with "primary leg lymphedema," meaning the lymph fluid in my limb was compromised, and that was that. In my mid-20s, doctors ordered every diagnostic a girl with lymphedema could hope for:

  • the lymphscintigraphy: lymph dye shot through my vessels, revealing no malformations or blockages
  • the venogram: fluid shot through a vein in my foot, then turned upside down, revealing no plumbing problems
  • the cat scan: lymph nodes were fully intact and functioning
  • the MRI: at least an hour and 15 minutes worth, scanning different areas, specialists conferring, clucking their tongues and scratching their heads

All of the films were sent to a lymphedema expert, Dr. Witte, in Tucson. I remember his call: Your films show no evidence of lymphedema at all. Just do what you can for your condition. There is no answer for why.

In reply I remember saying just one word: "God." It was not a swear word, but an explanation.

At that time in my journey, I leaned on the knowledge that God foreordains everything. He must have wanted me to have lymphedema, especially with no other explanation.

My theology has changed since then. I don't believe in a God who causes our brokenness, but a God who redeems it.

My swollen right foot made me into an old soul at a young age. When kids would yell "fat foot!" on the playground, my heart hurt but it also enlarged. Lymphedema made me feel things more deeply and be more aware of how my body functioned. It made me infinitely more grateful to be able to walk and play and work and serve and love. My heart became passionate and eventually compassionate, as I moved toward others experiencing all kinds of brokenness. This is one of the reasons I am a good chaplain, a sincere friend, and a loving spouse.

When you have the slightest of a limp of whatever kind, you mostly look totally normally, but you know you are terribly fortunate. Life is a gift. 

Another gift wrapped in love: God is close to the brokenhearted. I see that now. It's splayed all over Scripture, dripping through in the humanity of Jesus. The Savior himself even chose to heal lymphedema, in a story I treasure from Luke 14:1-6:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. 

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

I would have nothing to say either. Especially if said  man, who did not have access to current "lymphedema treatment" was heavily swollen, and then he was not. Leave it to Jesus to heal him on the most inappropriate day in full view of scoffers. You guys: Jesus heals lymphedema!

Sometimes he does it in this life, through therapies like the ones I am currently experiencing at U of M hospital. Sometimes he might do so supernaturally, if he chooses to. But from the eternal view, from a future and forever-with-God perspective, it is a done deal.


Come back next week where I share my current journey to more healing through my therapy in Ann Arbor, MI: laser, manual lymphatic drainage and a suction pump. I've waited 15 years for this!

Your turn: In what area of your life or body do you need healing? How does this need affect your relationship with God?

On the book #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece. Order here.