(This is the first installment of Shelley’s Shrugs. These are the things that grind my gears about breast cancer.)
As I enter my second year of survivorhood, there is something troubling that I see more and more. Simply stated, it is the perception that because we are cured, we are healthy and painfree. Let’s pick that apart:
- No one can ever know if they are “cured”. Let’s face it, there were microscopic cancer cells road tripping through my lymph system. We can know there are no noticeable cancer globs forming at the moment, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t pesky little cells waiting for a friend to party. I have survived, but I can never be sure if I’m cured.
- Yes, I’m basically healthy. I can do much of what I did prior to cancer diagnosis. But I don’t do it with the same energy or strength. And this means that I don’t just get tired. It means that everyday around 5 pm or so, I hit a brick wall so hard that it leaves a mark. It means that I sometimes need leverage to get out of a chair. It means I go to bed at 8 pm, not because I expect to fall asleep (I usually read), but because I am physically too tired to hold myself up anymore.
- Cancer free does not equate to painfree. I have pain every day. My feet hurt. My arm and leg bones hurt. My scars ache. My back hurts. My neck hurts. When I overdo it, I start getting nerve pain shooting through my legs. This is what they do not tell you before treatment – that you will experience the side effects of chemo and radiation for years, if not forever.
Which leads me to the part that grinds my gears. I actually talked to someone the other day with concern for a family member who was taking painkillers three years after breast cancer treatment ended. She felt that her relative was addicted to painkillers because, as she said, “She’s cancer-free, she can’t be in pain.”
CAN’T BE IN PAIN
I’ve heard this a few times from doctors too, who told me that I couldn’t possibly be in pain. That the discomfort I have can’t be related to treatment at this point. Let’s see, I didn’t have bone pain before cancer, but I have it now. Nope, can’t possibly be related. It’s appalling. No one should have to quantify how much pain they are in. If you are not in their shoes, you have no idea what it may be like. This is true for many other invisible conditions or disabilities, I know I am unfortunately not alone. It’s time to stop the judging, and see what we can do constructively.
In the case of the conversation above, I think the family needs to turn their thinking around. Is the relative addicted to painkillers? Possibly. But it’s time to validate the fact that she IS in pain, and that needs to be addressed. Her painkiller use is a symptom, and any intervention needs to be part of a pain prevention plan. I don’t suggest this as a medical professional (I’m not), but as a patient who knows what it is like to be in so much pain that I can’t function. I personally stay away from painkillers, but I am totally sympathetic to those who can’t resist their draw. Let’s open our minds, and not judge someone else’s suffering.
As for me, I don’t ask for sympathy – merely understanding. Have patience with me when I can’t keep up. More than anything, I want to do the normal things in life again. It might just take a little longer. Because I promise, cancer isn’t going to stop me.