This is about pain as part of cancer treatments like chemo and radiotherapy. Although doctors and specialists try to prepare patients for the upcoming pain, sometimes words aren’t sufficient until the pain actually arrives.
Pain is to be expected, even planned for
I’ve been ready for pain since we started this battle against cancer. I was told to expect it, and so far I’ve not been disappointed.
There’s been plenty of pains, from the odd twinges here and there to the full-barreled muscle cramps that turn me into a human pretzel —and everything in between. I have a full 96-color Crayola box full of assorted pains.
(We’ll talk about my latest obsession with coloring books later, thanks to my brother, Kevin.)
Andrea, my radiotherapy specialist, doesn’t pull punches. If something’s going to hurt, she’ll say so. If she wants me to quit wriggling around like a five year old in need of a nap, she’ll say so. If a treatment is going to cause problems later in the schedule, she’ll say so.
She’s done a great job of preparing me for the discomfort that the RT treatments are causing over the long term.
But what I didn’t know was just how fearful that swallowing pain would be. It’s not the pain. It’s the feeling that I’m choking, and that nothing will budge the mass in my throat except more water. Am I choking? or on the verge drowning?
There’s pain, then there’s PAIN
I knew that swallowing was going to cause pain at some point. As I understand it, Andrea is aiming a high-powered ionizing beam through the lining of my esophagus on its way to blasting tumor cells to bits with a device that would make a Star Wars fan weep with jealousy. One of the tumors is on the far side of the esophagus, so the beam has to make its way through to hit the cancer it’s aimed at. And that beam is magnified by liquid found in that esophagus.
(I even got TATTOOS! so she can triangulate this high-powered lightsaber-like beaming device properly. That’s radical stuff. Too bad she wouldn’t give me four owls or four tiny butterflies – just four discreet dots. Dangit.)
Where the problem arises is this: Suddenly, food started acting like sandpaper. Anything larger than a grain of rice feels like it gets stuck midway down. So it’s soups, mush, puddings, mash, liquids, slushies —and icy items like fruit ices, sherbet bars, even non-chunky ice creams.
I’m taking nine pills in the morning and five at night, one at a time, each one swallowed with a half teaspoon of oatmeal or cream of wheat and five or six sips of ice water. I need better hobbies.
Pain can be postponed but not necessarily cancelled
Normally, Andrea is all smiles and bubbly. On Monday, she was not smiling. She suggested that I might want to take a break from the RT treatments, suggested some medication changes, suggested some food thoughts — but did not smile. Andrea is never without her smile. I said I’d think about it overnight, and I got a half smile out of her.
On Tuesday, she strongly suggested that we take a few days off. She was definitely not smiling. I agreed, and got a firm nod, and a “GOOD!” out of her. We’ll reconnect next Monday and see how the healing is going.
Now, after my first full day off, I am beginning to see and feel the difference. The treatment effects continue for a few days, so it’ll probably be two or three more days before something actually improves. Meanwhile, my goal is to be able to get back to where I can take my medications without washing each tiny pill down with a spoon full of gummy oatmeal!