Not only is cancer a pain to have but it can be painful both emotionally and physically. While ‘pain’ was not the first word to come to mind when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I learned, as I started my cancer journey, that there are different types of pain (from discomfort to PAIN) at different points in the cancer journey. I also learned that while there are some commonalities, the unique nature of cancer continues when it comes to pain. Here are a few examples:
This unique range of experiences is the reason why I've chosen to write a five-part series of posts to deal with the emotional and physical pain (or at least discomfort) that can be associated with cancer.
Part 1: Emotions
The first pain that can be associated with cancer actually comes before a cancer diagnosis. Even the possibility of having cancer can be emotionally painful. If you talk to any cancer patient, at some point in the conversation you will undoubtedly hear the words, “I hate the waiting.” Sometimes the emotions associated with not knowing if you have cancer feel just as bad as knowing you have it. While I would have preferred to not have cancer, once I had a diagnosis, I felt less emotional than when I was experiencing the chaos of tests and results. Still, the emotional element of cancer continues as each new treatment comes along and then life ‘after’ cancer.
Part 2: Surgery
Prior to having surgery for cancer, many of us have already had some other kind of surgery in our lives. I was one of those people. I at least had a sense of what it would be like after general anaesthetic and the discomfort that would follow. Still, while I had had multiple organs removed, this was the first time that I had surgery where I was able to see that I had a missing part. This was also the first time that I wondered if I would be upset about losing part of me. My gall bladder and appendix had been part of me, but I never wondered if I would be a different person once I had them removed.
Part 3: Chemo
On TV, chemo is all about feeling nauseated and throwing up. For most people who haven’t had cancer or been a caregiver to someone who has gone through chemo, that’s the only knowledge they have about chemo. I was one of those people. Once I finished chemo, I knew that pain should have had equal airtime on TV. It’s ironic, but when I had tests done, I got told ahead of time when something was going to be cold or when there was going to be a slight pinch, but when I had chemo there was no mention of potential pain.
Part 4: Radiation
Some people will find radiation worse than chemo, especially if their skin begins to burn (possibly blister) early in the process. Personally, I had 25 radiation treatments, but it wasn’t really until later in the process, maybe around treatments 15 to 20, that I started to feel any discomfort. It’s at this point that I started to use a lotion, and it’s at this point that my skin started to deteriorate. I don’t know if the type of lotion played a role in this, but I’ve always had my suspicions. Some women have posted pictures online of their skin during their radiation treatments, and I can honestly say that any burning I had was really nothing. It just goes to prove once again that the cancer experience is unique.
Part 5: After Treatment
In this case, ‘After Treatment’ is really about the time after surgery, chemo, and radiation treatments. This stage of the cancer experience refers to potential ongoing side effects from active treatments and some new potential pain that is associated with medications that women can take who are estrogen and progesterone positive (cancer driven by hormones). Many women struggle with the prospect of staying on these medications for up to 10 years because of the side effects.
To help make these upcoming blog posts even better, I’d like to hear what you did to deal with pain/discomfort (both emotional and physical). If you have learned from your experiences and you would like to share your knowledge with those who may not have gone through the experience yet, please contact me through my website or add your suggestions to the comments for this post.
Watch for my first post, which will deal with the emotional pain that can come with cancer from the moment when cancer is suspected until well after active treatment.
Over 30-years of writing experience, over five years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.