When Monique Samuels, from Atlanta, Georgia, was just 12 years old, she was diagnosed with lymphedema, a condition that causes excess fluid to collect in tissues and results in extreme swelling in her legs.
For years, she felt ashamed of the way her body looked, and tried to hide away.
‘When I was 12, I sprained my ankle, and shortly after, my right foot and leg started to swell up,’ said Monique.
‘After going to several hospitals, I was referred to Lerner Lymphedema Center by an ER resident and that is where I was diagnosed – after about six months of hospital stays, MRI scans, blood tests and ultrasounds.
‘I was very self-conscious about my appearance once the condition developed.
‘No one was ever unkind to my face but I would hear things from others or just stares from people in public.
‘I used to stray away from going out or doing certain things to avoid stares or feeling like I was dependent on others for help, when my legs were at their biggest.
‘A lot of the time, I had to roll my legs in wraps and it just took away from any fun I wanted to have.
‘I let the condition control my life and my decisions.
‘I used to base all my life choices on how it would affect my legs or limit myself because of it.’
Monique underwent more than 10 surgeries in an attempt to improve her condition, and has manual lymph drainage therapy every year to help reduce the size of her legs.
There is no cure for the condition, which also causes frequent cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection that means Monique is often unwell.
But she says the self-inflicted isolation has been the hardest part of her illness.
After years of suffering alone, Monique decided that enough was enough – and got to work on improving her self-confidence.
She said: ‘I was just tired of being sick and tired.
‘It took time but I was happy to push through that thought process by doing life coaching.
‘I used to always get comments from people saying that I was pretty but my legs were so big, and it used to bother me when I was younger but now I know I’m beautiful because of my legs.
‘There is so much more to me than my condition, I’m proud of who I am and who I am becoming.’
Monique started documenting her life with lymphedema on Instagram (@chronicallymoni) and has received lots of support.
She also runs a YouTube page called Chronicallymoni, where she regularly shares details about her life and surgery updates.
Monique hopes that by speaking openly about lymphedema, she will raise awareness of the condition and help others struggling feel less alone.
She added: ‘There are so many supportive people out there.
‘It always warms my heart to read my comments, there are millions of people like me out there and even if their condition is not the same, they too can relate to hiding who you are and everyday struggles.
‘I used to think the only people with lymphedema were old white women, because that is all I saw on manuals, brochures and videos.
‘Then, when social media grew and hashtags became a thing; I saw so many people living with it that it made me feel a part of a larger community of men and women, young and old, of all races and backgrounds.
‘You have the power to live the life you want, we are all a choice away from something different, so if you want something else, choose that!
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