My own feeling is that no cancer patient today should have to suffer severely from physical pain," states Dr. Vincent T. DeVita, Jr., director of the National Cancer Institute. "First of all, only 20 to 30 percent of cancer patients get severe pain; the rest don't. For those patients who have pain, there are plenty of drugs on the market to cover almost every kind of pain. We also have neurosurgical procedures to relieve pain. The main problem is that doctors are not taught how to use narcotics in medical school, and they usually don't prescribe painkillers frequently enough. The fear that some patients may become addicted to narcotics is frankly ludicrous in patients who are dying of cancer. No patient should have to ask for pain relief."
Cancer patients may like to take a pain relieving drug because they feel comfortable when they do. This is not addiction. It is a very rare happening, really most unusual for a cancer patient to become addicted because of drugs taken while they have cancer.
Take medicine according to your doctor's advice. Don't be concerned with addiction. Often, a smaller amount of medication before feeling pain can avoid having to take a much larger dose later to ease the pain.
As a cancer patient, you may get infuriated when you hear the discussion as to why Congress will not legalize the use of heroin for cancer patients. Before you fly off the handle, give some thought as to why the American Medical Association, the American Society of Internal Medicine and the Medical Society of the State of New York among others are opposed to legalizing the use of heroin. It is because heroin is not theonly solution to the problem of intractable pain. A drug that many pharmaceutical and medical experts consider more effective than heroin is Dilaudid, which is legal and has been available for some time. It is highly soluble, more potent, achieves its peak effect sooner and has a longer duration of action than heroin.
Our bodies are built to send messages to the brain when something is wrong. Pain is just such a message. Possibly, it helped you in finding an earlier diagnosis. Often, by improving the quality of life, by doing things we enjoy, by having pleasure and forgetting our cares and problems, we can diminish our pain. This does not mean our pain is imaginary. It only means that we have the power to replace it with something positive.
Norman Cousins found that watching funny movies had an excellent effect on him, making him forget his pain. There is an old saying, "Laughter is the best medicine." Several hospitals have put in a "laughing room" where tapes of funny movies are continuously shown for the benefit of cancer patients. Others are talking of dedicating one channel of their closed circuit television to this same type of programming. We're not all the same, but for many of us, it can have a very beneficial effect.
When side effects of treatments are particularly severe, it could be because you feel out of control and are resisting your doctor's treatments. If you can get back to feeling in control, if you participate with your doctor in deciding on the treatment, if you want the treatment, if you believe the treatment will help you, if you practice visualization during the treatment, often the side effects will be diminished. We can bear much more discomfort when we believe the results will be worthwhile.
Acute pain can depress a patient and reduce the will to live. The important thing is to get the pain stopped. Don't cry wolf for every little ache and pain, but when it gets serious, let your doctor know and be certain he gets rid of it.
There are many recognized ways to treat pain in addition to drugs. These would include psychological therapy of an individual or group nature, biofeedback, hypnosis, physical therapy and massage. Furthermore, it is not necessary to concentrate all your hopes on one specific method. Generally, it is possible to resort to several methods simultaneously. Some believe that the more kinds of treatment you receive, the more your pain will decrease, in that each treatment can have not only a cumulative but a synergistic effect on the others.
Radiation is recognized as one definite way to eliminate or dramatically reduce pain in many situations. These treatments are know as paliative treatments in that they are strictly to make the patient feel better by killing the cancer in a local area but generally will not cure the overall disease. Certain chemotherapies are used to make the patient feel better. These are but two examples of where the treatments that have such a bad reputation in fact are given for the exact opposite reason, to make the patient feel better. Check with your physician to see if it is appropriate for you.
When I was taking chemotherapy, the extremely potent drugs were making me very sick, weak and thoroughly miserable. True, life in that state was absolutely not worthwhile. I was not only in physical pain, but mental and emotional pain as well. However, realizing that if those drugs were making this great big body of mine that sick and weak, they were also playing havoc with those weak, dumb cancer cells and destroying them. These horrible drugs were giving me a chance to live. Not only did my positive thinking enable me to tolerate the pain, I actually looked forward to being made sick because I knew it was giving me a chance to live. Always remember that the purpose of cancer treatments is to help you. Welcome them, understand them, help them to do their job and be grateful to the doctors and scientists who discovered them, perfected them and are giving them to you.
I had never been a pill taker. My surgeon insisted that I take a pain killer every four hours after surgery. That was five pills a day, each containing one grain of codeine. He explained that the surgery had left a great deal of scar tissue in my shoulder. A little pain medication taken regularly, before pain and the resulting tension started, would keep me relatively free of pain and allow me to heal faster.
Again, I am not a pill taker. Twice - once in July on our way to Bermuda and a second time in August at home - I tried to break the habit. Both times, on the second day, the pain was intolerable, and I had to go back to using the codeine.
On my next regular visit to Houston, the doctor recommended that I see the M.D. Anderson staff psychologist. We visited him the afternoon we were leaving. I explained that I did not believe in psychiatrists or psychologists. I felt that I was an intelligent individual and was able to control my thoughts without help.
He started off by saying that since I was leaving that afternoon, he would be unable to treat me, so he would like to tell me a story. Subconsciously, this established my confidence in him, since he could have no personal motive.
He told me to picture myself walking across Main Street with a tremendously sore leg. Each step means excruciating pain. I am barely able to hop. In the middle of Main Street, I glance up and suddenly see a huge truck coming at me at 60 mph. What happens? Suddenly, I have no pain, and I am easily able to run the rest of the way across the street to avoid being hit by the truck. When I reach the curb and stop, the pain is back in full force. What does this prove? The mind is capable of turning off pain if it wants to.
He recommended that when we got home, we find a psychologist who specializes in pain. My wife made numerous phone calls and did a great deal of research before finally making an appointment with a doctor. He explained that pain was a combination of two factors: tension and physical hurt. If I could learn to relax and get rid of tension, the pain would be less severe. I always thought of myself as a very relaxed person, but I did not know the true meaning of the word.
On the first visit, he taught me to relax by the third method described in chapter 5. I was to do this every morning and evening. I was really relaxed.
On my second visit a week later, after relaxing me, the doctor attempted to use hypnosis to stop the pain. It did not work. A week later on the third visit, he tried again without success.
On the fourth week, after relaxing me, he asked me to think of the most beautiful thought in the world and tell him what it was. I said it was my wife's love for me. He then said that my body was filling with my wife's love for me and repeated that it was completely filling my entire body. I took my good left hand and placed it on the left side of my chest and rubbed it across to my right shoulder forcing my wife's love for me into the right shoulder and all the pain out. It worked.
From the time I left the doctor's office that day, I never took another pain pill. Whenever my shoulder started hurting, I thought of my wife's love for me and forced it up into my shoulder and instantly the pain was gone.
This story was not for the purpose of entertaining or impressing you. It is meant to emphasize four critical points.
First, take any pain medications in accordance with your doctor's recommendations.
Second, stress and tension do play a dramatic part in the feeling of pain.
Third, if something doesn't work the first time, don't give up. If it is good and has worked for others, keep on trying. We are all individuals, and everything will not work for each one of us, but there is probably a variation that will help.
Fourth, in pain as in everything else, seek a qualified professional who specializes strictly in that field. He knows current state-of-the-art therapy off the top of his head along with all possible options.