Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pain and Suffering

Ah, what a topic, huh? It’s a topic I can’t speak about with much authority as I have been extraordinarily healthy most of my life.  That’s not to say that I haven’t been injured or experienced my own ups and downs, but clearly I haven’t had to walk down the road of chronic pain or extended physical or emotional discomfort. For those who have issues with pain and suffering, I’m much more empathetic now than I used to be and I suspect that after my treatment is over, it’ll be all the more so. That’s not something I revel in, of course, but it’s something I know is part of healing.

At the risk of sounding cliché, pain is important. It’s something that preserves, warns, and protects us from something really serious. Those afflicted with Hanson’s Disease (leprosy) pray for the gift of pain while we in this country can rattle off the trade names of a couple of dozen pain relievers without much effort. While there are certainly times a pain reliever is appropriate, more often than not, we mask problems with a pill when we should be paying attention to what the pain is telling us. Pain is good.

I think it’s important to embrace the pain. Now, before you label me as masochistic, understand that what I’m saying is that what I mean by embracing the pain has more to do with understanding what your body is telling you may be wrong rather than taking pleasure in hurting. Obviously, there’s a distinct difference and while I don’t enjoy pain and suffering at face value, going through these experiences have brought me closer to others and have transformed me into someone different, better I hope. Again, I don’t look forward to being miserable and I won’t allow these experiences to define who I am, I do see these bouts with hardship as opportunities. Being bitter gets you nowhere except perhaps a group of compadres who are equally miserable with whom you have nothing in common except some sour grapes that you can share with each other. Talk about a healthy relationship!

I have been giving some thought to this topic more because I know that even though the fun-ness I’m experiencing with the chemo currently isn’t at all pleasant, the transplant process will make this all look like a cake walk. In fact, when I was chatting with another vet who had been through the marrow transplant process. He said he had basically forgotten about two months of his treatment because he was medicated through much of it. He has a different condition and other complications, but he was pretty direct with me that it was rough and that even a couple of vets there didn’t survive the transplant process because they wouldn’t get out of bed. They just died. It was more sobering to hear from him about the road ahead of me than from the doctor. I did ask my doctor about this and she did acknowledge that medication was there for a reason. Rather telling, huh? On the other hand, she was direct as well in saying that your body knows when it’s ready and suddenly you feel good again. After having had a couple of blood transfusions during my first round of chemo, I totally get that. It was amazing what the difference a little bag of blood could do.

Having finished dose 6 of 6 of this course of chemo, I’m still feeling really good and full of energy. My appetite has been really strong and with a little help from the Mr. Coffee down the hall, I’m keeping regular and alert. Although there is coffee served at every meal I get, it’s really weak and I’m amazed at what an impact regular strength coffee is doing! I asked my mom bring in some nice coffee and a box of Girl Scout cookies from my apartment for the nurse’s station to show my appreciation.  We gotta take care of those who take care of us, right?  They are my superheroes after all!

My hem/onc doctor is rotating back to the Huntsman Cancer Institute and I’ll be meeting a new doc who is rotating to the VA tomorrow, so I’ll be able to get a better feel for when I can expect to be discharged. I’ll be getting my third of four stab-in-the-back (intrathecal) chemo treatments tomorrow.  I’m pleased that these haven’t been nearly as painful or uncomfortable as they sounded and they have actually taken care of the one symptom for the leukemia no one saw as such: double vision. Things are happening.

The weather is getting better and although I do have a window, my view only serves to make me want to get outside all the more.  Thankfully, I’ve been getting out of doors long enough to soak in some much needed sunshine and fresh air outside of the four walls of this hospital room.  Spring Fever is much more intense than I ever remember. No surprise there, I’m sure, but that’s hardly real pain and suffering, is it?

There’s no doubt I’ll have more to say on this subject as I progress through my treatment and I experience some really unpleasant things during the transplant procedure, but I bring it up now again because it’s something that is central to our human experience, something we have to learn to not just accept or tolerate, but embrace as natural and necessary and it’s not an easy thing to say when all you want to be is comfortably numb. For the time, I endeavor to be strong and optimistic and continue to thank you all for being my support. Time for my meds ;-)

Music of the day – I Get Knocked Down (But I Get Up Again) by Chumbawamba.
     I get knocked down
     But I get up again
     You're never going to keep me down
Seems appropriate, don’t you think?

Be well, stay strong, and much love to you all!