I don't have chronic pain in the clinical sense, but after more than three years of cancer treatment, I've come to realize that I'm almost never entirely comfortable. Something in my body hurts, or itches, or aches, or feels off pretty much all the time.
Most of the time I'm not in real pain, but it's nevertheless pretty tiring. My feet tingle, or my guts churn, or I vomit unpredictably, and so on. Often it's a vague combination of symptoms, such as a slight stomach upset combined with swollen-feeling fingers and a bad taste in my mouth. Something like that woke me at 4 a.m. today, after six hours of sleep, and kept me awake, so I'm up for the day now, it seems. (Oh, and having been awake for three hours without eating, I of course barfed when I finally got out of bed to get myself some food. Sigh. But I'm fine now.)
Once again, I'm 40, but my body acts much older.
This isn't easy on anybody in the house, not me, not my wife Air, not my daughters. Not even the dog, who when I'm feeling poorly doesn't always get as long a walk as she should. But it's surprising what your body can get used to.
It's also given me a perspective on something I've never understood viscerally: addiction. I'm not on painkillers right now, but I have been in the past, and I've felt withdrawal when I stopped. But that was almost entirely physical. It was unpleasant, but I didn't feel a need for the morphine. I don't seem to be prone to addiction, at least not to anything I've tried in my life so far.
Yet when I feel the constant, low-level, nagging discomfort, I can imagine it being not that much worse so that I'd need medicine to go about my day. And then I can take another step, and imagine that the discomfort and pain weren't physical, but emotional, and how I'd want to do almost anything to dull them. And I can see where that could go.
I still don't really understand what that would be like. I have no idea what it would be like to be there. But I can imagine better, like seeing it from closer than I used to.
I do have chronic pain as a result of my illness. I take long-acting morphine twice a day and then I have morphine for break through pain. My main area of pain is in my colon. I am sure you can relate. I get roving pain as a result of immune system activation.
I have also worried about addiction until I heard Dr. Brian Goldman on CBC talk about it. I learned that I am not psychologically addicted. I take the long-acting religiously. I only take breakthrough when I actually need it. I never think about taking it unless I am in pain. There are days where I can go through the whole day without taking anything.
Another sign of addiction is going through the prescription faster or making up lies to get more etc.
Bottomline - if you are in pain you should have access to pain medications. My senior dog mentor believes that any animal with cancer is in pain and is on pain medications.
Talk to your doctor and see if something can be done. Being uncomfortable is not ok.
I may not have made it clear, but one of the things that makes my discomfort non-chronic is that it's not always the same thing. For example, right now my guts are fine, I'm not nauseated, and I have no headache, but I'm feeling a bit of the tingling neuropathy in my feet and fingers, a side effect of oxaliplatin, one of my chemo drugs. That changes as I go through different parts of my treatment and get different symptoms and side effects, and as different things take effect or wear off. It's just that I rarely feel 100% "good to go" anymore.
Now, I do take medications to counteract the worst of it: my throwing up this morning was more my mistake than anything, since I should have eaten earlier. But the anti-nausea meds I took last week during chemo meant that it was the first time I've barfed in over a month, despite heavy chemotherapy drugs. And when things ache in certain places, I take pain relievers, and usually ibuprofen will do the job these days. I take ativan before chemo to dial down some of the anxiety that prompts further nausea too. I also simply get tired more easily than I used to, and I'm far from as strong as I used to be.
I have learned that it's better to ask for the heavy-duty stuff if I need it, and I'm aware of when I need it. Morphine can do miracles for me, and certainly did when I had bowel blockages and the like. I was astonished at how it made excruciating pain just go away. But I don't need it right now, and don't want it either.
In the end, the fact is that cancer and chemo and surgery and radiation and the rest (including my diabetes, which I've had for almost 20 years, but which is under good control) put a lot of wear and tear on my body. I feel the effects of that, and it means I probably feel like a lot of people two or three decades older than me. I just wish I felt like the 35-year-old me again, or whatever the 40-year-old me would feel like without the disease.
But I don't, and that's okay most days.