Sunday, February 9, 2020

Cancer is a Pain (Part One)

“Pain”, according to Merriam-Webster: “usually localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder (such as a disease or an injury)” …… Usually. Physical suffering. I would add in mental suffering.

I have talked a lot about how I have found an outlet as well as a source of strength for my mental skirmishes with cancer. Joining - and participating - in a support group has helped me tremendously. I will be forever grateful for the compassion of people living with cancer. Their unselfish ability to be so completely vulnerable around complete strangers, their willingness to be open and honest with their inner demons and fears, and to be able to put this terrifying experience into words. A beauty of cancer has been my introduction to these fabulous people.

For those of us keeping track: The American Cancer Society says the following are possible side effects of chemotherapy: fatigue (and we are not talking “being tired”), hair loss, easy bruising and bleeding, infection, anemia (low red blood cell counts), nausea and vomiting, appetite changes, constipation, diarrhea, mouth, tongue, and throat problems such as sores and pain with swallowing, nerve and muscle problems such as numbness, tingling, and pain, skin and nail changes such as dry skin and color change, urine and bladder changes and kidney problems, weight changes, chemo brain, which can affect concentration and focus, mood changes, changes in libido and sexual function, fertility problems.

Geez, you would have to have some tragic happen to you like CANCER in order to even contemplate taking a “medication” with that many side effects. Right? Well, welcome to the world of us living with cancer…..

For many of us diagnosed with cancer, the drugs your medical team is telling you to put into your body to hopefully save your life come with such ugly side effects during treatment and possibly for the reminder of your life. These includes developing secondary cancers and or death. Sounds scary doesn’t it? For some it’s just too scary and they look for alternative routes of care. It’s a truly individual choice. I respect others who have chosen another pathway against cancer. I cheer modern medicine for searching for alternative methods to rid the body of cancer cells. I yearn for them to land on an effective course of treatment that does not include large doses of poison. It is why I am participating in a clinical trial. I have hope.

And the fun isn’t just during treatment. states late effects of chemotherapy (long after treatment has concluded) include: fatigue, difficulty with focused thinking (sometimes called chemo brain), early menopause, heart problems, reduced lung capacity, kidney and urinary problems, nerve problems such as numbness and tingling, bone and joint problems, muscle weakness, and of course the dreaded secondary cancers. 

I experienced a good number of the “during chemo” side effects and I’ve talked about them here while I was in treatment. The fatigue was and continues to be tremendous. It’s not anything like being tired. Your whole self. Your body, your mind, your spirit is fatigued. I have a new appreciation for the word fatigue. And I still experience a good deal of issues from neuropathy in my fingers.

Luckily, modern medicine has medicine to counteract most of the side effects of chemotherapy. The dreaded nausea, for example, can now be mostly controlled to a great degree now a days with a bucket full of meds. I needed a journal and a wife in order to keep up with my daily medicine regimen during chemo.

But what happens to you "after chemo"? After the prescriptions have run their course, after the weekly blood draws and doctor appointments? After the hovering and comforting nurses aren’t there for you 24/7 via phone? What can pop up years out of treatment as a result of chemotherapy - physically as well as mentally? Clearly there is a whole host of side effects post treatment that can crop up anytime during the remainder of your life. Please see above. Years from now – and I pray I get there – I may have heart issues, for example, that hopefully, someone will be smart enough to tie back to my previous chemotherapy when determining a course of treatment. 

I would add one more side effect from "after chemotherapy" – Pain - physical pain.

I explore my pain and how I cope in Part Two…………

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