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Chlorine Is My Preferred Perfume

By Julie Auton

I did it again. I overextended myself working in the yard. I blame it on the spectacular fall day that lured me into pulling weeds far longer than I should have. Now, I'm staring at the consequences of my compulsive behavior…a swollen lower right arm, which exposes evidence of the 37 lymph nodes I had removed during breast cancer surgery.

My bloated arm is not a pretty sight (unless you find Popeye attractive), and pain shoots up my arm at intervals, resulting from the buildup of lymphatic fluid. My disfigurement serves as a reminder that post-cancer, my body is different.

Now, I have to moderate myself when using my right arm -- no extreme lifting, pulling or continuous motion. Moderation is a hard concept for a Type A personality to grasp.

Fortunately, I can find relief in the pool. Swimming, I have discovered, is the only exercise that fully soothes my arm while working out my entire body.

Several days a week, year-round, I'm at an indoor pool splashing up and down the lane for about 40 minutes. And although I sport “raccoon eyes” imprinted by swimming goggles afterwards, the flip side is that I feel incredible from the overall cardiovascular workout.

Like most children, I loved spending entire daylight hours during the hot summer months in the water -- be it pool, lake or ocean. But as adults, few of us choose to exercise in the water. I can think of a few reasons why.

First of all, it takes a major effort to carve out time in my day to pack my clothes, drive to the gym, swim, wash and dry my hair, apply makeup and dress. I schedule swimming in the morning to avoid starting over with my hair and makeup if I do it later in the day. Other forms of exercise don’t require this amount of planning and effort.

Second, there's the swimsuit ordeal. Almost every woman identifies with this agonizing annual rite of spring -- shedding our winter clothes and trying on a swimsuit for the upcoming warm weather. Thank goodness for clothing catalogs, which rescue us from department stores with their harsh, glaring fluorescent lights and three-way, full-length mirrors that expose every dimple of cellulite. Now, I can view my body in the privacy of my home…in the dark, if I prefer.

And if we weren't self-conscious enough about our bodies as women, many breast cancer survivors have the added challenge of a mastectomy, lymph nodes removed and/or surgery scars.

The good news is there are more swimsuit options today to fit every kind of body. Also, if you're picturing Britney Spears look-a-likes at the gym pool, think again. I can assure you that's not the case. At my gym, men and women of all ages and sizes work out. Cellulite and assorted figures run rampant. Yet, people bare their imperfect bodies – including me -- in front of God and everyone.

Why? Because swimming is worth it. Throughout my adult life, I have run, walked, biked, attended aerobics classes – even worked out at a boxing gym -- yet nothing has compared to the way I feel after swimming. Your entire body gets a workout. An added bonus for women is that it specifically targets the weakest and most vulnerable area of your body -- the upper arms.

A few years ago, my 5-year-old niece "played" with the fat dangling from my upper arm -- you know the spot.

"You sure have flabby arms, Aunt Julie," she noted. I briefly considered removing her name from my will. But the child had a point. As a result, I tried lifting weights, but found it excruciatingly boring.

Swimming provided the answer. The only necessary purchase was a proper fitting swimsuit and goggles, but I also bought a swim cap to keep hair out of my face. Recently, I added fins to my workout, which provide more resistance to my legs -- kind of like riding a bike in higher gear.

The nice aspect of swimming is that you can pace yourself. Because the water provides resistance, there's no chance of overdoing it and causing injury. Best of all, you can submerge in the silent world of water and indulge in a half-hour of daydreaming.

After committing to swimming regularly, my arms, back and abdomen, in particular, are in better shape than ever and my strength has improved. And best of all, I don't hear pesky comments about my flabby arms from small children.