Ronni Gordon is  a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written about her journey, about health and fitness, and about how she and others have prevailed in difficult situations. She brings to her writing a mix of personal experience with knowledge about the health-care system and how cancer patients can navigate it. A graduate of Vassar College with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, she is a freelance writer who worked in daily newspapers for more than 30 years. She has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dana FarberCancer Institute magazine, and Cancer Today magazine. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her dog, Maddie, short for Madison (Avenue) in honor of her hometown, New York, and is mother of three grown children, Ben, Joe, and Katie

Ronni Gordon

Don't Be Afraid to Treat Cancer Pain

Tuesday, 28 Jan 2014 11:05 AM

By Ronni Gordon

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I’ve experienced plenty of pain since my initial leukemia diagnosis 10 years ago. From mouth sores so painful that I couldn’t eat, to lung surgery that made me feel like I’d been hit by a Mac truck, to surgeries for removing a lesion on my kidney and to excise a small part of my tongue that had precancerous cells on it — I’ve felt pain in just about every part of my body.
 
Believe me: If you are in pain, you should take the strongest medicine you can get. If it that medicine happens to be a narcotic, such as oxycodone, don’t worry — most people who take it for cancer pain do not get addicted. Don’t feel you have to tough it out or face addiction.
 
Pain medicines work best if they are used before the pain becomes severe. It takes more medicine to control severe pain than milder pain, so it’s best to treat the pain when it first starts, keep taking the medication regularly after that.
 
What’s more, pain can sap the energy you need for healing. According to the American Cancer Society, if you are suffering from pain:
 
·         You may not be able to do the things you need to do.
·         You may have trouble sleeping and eating.
·         You may feel tired or “down” all the time.
·         You may be cranky, frustrated, sad, and even angry.
•    Loved ones may not understand how you are feeling, and you may feel very alone.
 
Hopefully, you and your healthcare provider will find the right dosage — enough to relieve the pain but not so much that you end up disoriented by the drug. But if it takes a high dose to relieve your pain, my advice is to just lie down and space out for a while instead of feeling like you must accomplish anything. Your job is to get better. Once the cause of the pain is treated, your need for medication will slowly decrease or even disappear.
 
Each person reacts differently to each medication, which is why your healthcare provider might try several different drugs before finding the right one.
Here, also from the American Cancer Society, are some facts about cancer pain treatment:
 
·         Cancer pain can almost always be controlled.
·         Controlling pain is part of good cancer care.
·         The best way to control cancer pain is to keep it from getting worse.
·         You have a right to ask for pain control.
·         People who take cancer pain medicines the way the doctor or nurse tells them to rarely become addicted to them.
·         Most people do not get high or lose control when they take cancer pain medicines the way they are told to.
·         There are things you can do to manage or even prevent side effects from pain medicines.
 
Even if you feel better after taking a medication, that does not mean you should overextend yourself. I know that from experience.
 
Shortly after returning home after kidney surgery, I did some stretching, walked a bit on the arm of a neighbor, sat up and down 10 times in a chair to test my leg muscles, did some laundry, and emptied the dishwasher.
 
When the pain medicine began to wear off, I felt worse than before.
 
Remember: Resting is also an important part of healing.

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