IB Flora is an attorney and breast cancer survivor. She's also a fitness enthusiast and lifestyle content creator. IB uses her platform to help educate others about lymphedema and advocate for survivors living with the condition. Her strength—both physical and mental—is truly inspirational, as are her efforts to motivate others to stay positive and keep moving. Connect with her on Instagram, @IB.Flora.
My journey to this point has shown me that there is beauty and strength in all things. Facing breast cancer and as a result lymphedema has helped me to truly appreciate routine activities and experiences. Our lives are defined by our responses to the opportunities and adversities presented in our lifetime. My response to breast cancer and lymphedema is to embrace grace and strength. I am learning to extend grace to myself on the tough days; I am finding strength in the boldness of authenticity. I went through a period of worrying about people’s perception of me wearing compression sleeves. I worried about the questions. Before my diagnosis, I was known to live a very active lifestyle. I enjoyed weightlifting, martial arts, really all things health and fitness. As someone who was supposedly very healthy, getting this diagnosis rocked me to my core. As a result, early on I was not open about my journey. I hid in plain sight. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my last year of law school. I had a mastectomy right before graduation. I studied for the bar exam, took the bar exam, and started working at a law firm as I underwent various treatments. In the midst of it all, I told very few people. I got good at hiding breast cancer and to some extent lymphedema but to what end? To keep an image of what I thought to be strength and wholeness?
Strength is pushing through the additional weight of life. Wholeness is finding peace and acceptance in who you are. It took me a while to reach those conclusions about strength and wholeness. After chemotherapy, I decided that I would no longer hide. I started wearing short sleeve shirts with my compression sleeves. I started talking about my journey online. As expected, people (friends and strangers alike) would ask me what happened to cause me to wear a full sleeve. I was boarding a plane once, wearing the Juzo pink sleeve for breast cancer awareness month, and a fellow passenger stopped me to ask about the sleeve. I use these opportunities to raise awareness. Often, I encounter people who have never heard the word lymphedema (I used to fall in this category). Sometimes, I find that people think this is a short-term experience like wearing a cast. I’m often asked when I can stop wearing the sleeve. It is important that I share my experiences and promote awareness to ensure that others are able to find their own version of light and hope in the face of lymphedema. I am not limited by lymphedema, in fact lymphedema has improved my fitness experience. I now focus on using proper technique and form when lifting and exercising to avoid hurting myself in a way that would cause my arm to swell. I really should have been using proper form before this diagnosis but oh well, I am here now living and learning.
I want to focus on raising awareness for lymphedema as it affects survivors. I do not think lymphedema is generally discussed enough but especially in that context. Frankly, I didn't even know the word “lymphedema” until after I underwent a mastectomy and my surgeon removed some lymph nodes. Afterwards, my physical therapist gave me a compression sleeve and I remember asking, “Is this for life?” The answer was in fact, yes. At the time, I did not know I had options with garments. I certainly did not know that there were sleeves that matched my complexion and also sleeves that could match my style. There were too many unknowns. I want more people to know that there is a community that understands the experience. You are not alone. Feel free to connect with me on Instagram @IB.Flora.
We have one life, one opportunity to walk in our purpose. Each new day of life is a miracle. Remember - You are strong. You are capable. Believe that.
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