Pain relief is an important part of your overall cancer care. In these two “Moving Forward” videos from ASCO and the LIVESTRONG Foundation, learn about this common side effect from medical experts and young adult survivors.
Cancer.Net® A Patient Education Series for Young Adults with Cancer
ASCO® American Society of Clinical Oncology
Julie Gralow, MD; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: If you're diagnosed with cancer, and you need to undergo treatment, pain might be one of the consequences. Pain can be due to the cancer itself based on where it's located, what it's pushing against. Pain can be due to surgery, or radiation, or chemotherapy, or other treatments that are a part of the cancer therapy. So understanding the cause of the pain, understanding if it's going to be short-term or long-term, understanding how severe it is, when it happens, what sets it off, all of those can be helpful in treating the pain.
Richard M. Goldberg, MD; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: You should interact with your healthcare team if you're having pain. You can talk to your doctor about it, or you can talk to the nurses and other people on the healthcare team. Most of them will have very good information on how to help you with discomfort. And they can help you in many different ways. Sometimes physical therapy, sometimes pain medication, sometimes lifestyle changes. Pain isn't something you should feel like you have to live with because you live with the diagnosis of cancer.
Dr. Gralow: For most patients dealing with cancer pain, we can help a lot, through medications and non-medical kinds of treatments, in managing the pain. And we can help you get back to a normal life again.
Dr. Goldberg: It's really important to help your doctor understand the character and severity of your pain if you're having pain. And one of the ways to do that is to keep a diary. We often ask people, "Is your pain 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain at all and 10 being the pain that's most severe you can imagine, like you were shot." And writing that down helps us gauge how severe your pain is and how best to manage it with you. So that sort of recording will help you when you come to the doctor's office and often are forgetful about things because there's so much going on around you. So it's my advice that keeping some notes is very valuable.
Dr. Gralow: We can't help you if we're not talking about it and we don't know about the pain. There's no question that anxiety, and depression, and insomnia, all of which are part of the whole cancer treatment and cancer diagnosis problem, they can actually exacerbate the pain, too. So it's not just treating the pain per se, it's helping with all those other emotional aspects that contribute to the pain, and it sets up a cycle. So talk to your healthcare team. Talk to your doctor. We really want to help you deal with the pain.
Dr. Goldberg: It's important when you have pain not to let it get really severe. For one thing, there's no benefit to the suffering with the pain. And for the other, we often can improve the pain better when we're managing pain that's at a level 3 instead of a level 10, the most severe form of pain that we see. Occasionally, pain will be really severe in the person with cancer. And we have to resort to some more technological measures for controlling it. That could include things like nerve blocks or radiation to a painful site. And it's really important to share with your care provider so that they know when to pull in those important technological advances for managing pain. So please don't suffer. Let us know what's wrong with you, and we'll help you with it.
What You Can Do
- If you have pain, tell a member of your health care team
- Remember there are several ways to treat pain, with and without the use of medication
- Keep track of your pain in a diary, and share it with your doctor
[Closing and Credits]
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This video series was made possible by a grant from LIVESTRONG to the Conquer Cancer Foundation.
Conquer Cancer Foundation® of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
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A video series for young adults with cancer
Tamika Felder, cancer survivor: My name is Tamika Felder and I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 25. I think one of the hardest things about my cancer experience was the enormous amount of pain I had to endure. I had severe pain before I was diagnosed, after I was diagnosed, and throughout my entire treatment. Some cancer survivors even have lingering pain after their cancer is cured. And can you believe that people who've had amputations or a mastectomies have phantom pain? I know it sounds crazy, but it happens. Whether you need medication or meditation, there is help out there if you're suffering from pain.
Speaker 2: One day I woke up and I couldn't move my arm. I literally could not move my arm. It almost felt like paralysis and it was the most excruciating pain I've ever experienced.
Speaker 3: Sometimes it feels like your foot is in a vise. Other times, it feels like somebody is putting ice picks into your feet.
Speaker 4: It just really felt like something was going to rip out of my stomach.
Speaker 5: I could feel somebody stabbing my back with the needle and all of a sudden, like if there was needles going all through my legs.
Speaker 6: I had a goiter in my neck which is when your thyroid swells and it had gotten to be about the size of an apple. So aside from being relatively unattractive, it was extremely uncomfortable.
Speaker 7: Some of the physical things that happened to me that I didn't expect included, developing shingles on my back and I wasn't at all ready for what that was or what it would feel like certainly. It was excruciatingly painful.
Speaker 2: So I called my endocrinologist and he got me into a hospital to help me with the pain. And I went to this hospital and they actually gave me shots of morphine because the pain was so excruciating.
Speaker 5: I remember I was telling my mom, "I don't want anymore."
Speaker 2: And then so finally, my doctor was incredible. He basically said, "I don't think I can help you. But I think there's a program in a hospital in the area. It's an in-patient program where they teach you how to manage your pain.”
Speaker 8: There are a lot of mental exercises that you try and do of distraction. It's really distraction techniques. And knowing body positions and putting yourself in positions that are less painful. And then trying to mentally engage such that you're distracted and not thinking about the pain.
Speaker 2: They taught you how to go off the narcotics and just try to manage your pain. They always said, "We can't take your pain away, but we can make it better."
Speaker 4: It's really a mind play type of thing is what I told myself. You have to grab the steering wheel and drive your own road, prepare for it. And once I started doing that, there was still pain, but in my mind I was like, "I can get through this. I can just take it one day at a time."
Speaker 2: And I think the best thing that happened was the pain program because it gave me a goal. I was like, "Oh I can do this."
Speaker 9: Never keep anything from your doctor. If you're experiencing pain, discomfort, a strange symptom, don't just assume it's supposed to be that way and not mention it. Tell your doctor. They're there to help you.
Tamika Felder: Pain is there for a reason. Pain could be telling you that something is not right with your body, or it might be an indication that the treatment isn't working, or that you should be doing something differently. Talk to your doctor to get treatment for the pain. And if what they give you doesn't work, ask again and again if necessary. Chronic pain can lead to serious depression, so the best advice I have if you're going through a painful time, is to take all the support you can get from your friends and family. Don't stay alone when you're scared. Get your mind off of it. Pain meds are helpful, but sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.
What you can do:
- Track the level and timing of your pain
- Share your notes with your doctor
- Be persistent until your pain gets addressed
Tamika Felder: If you're experiencing pain, it is important that you talk to your doctor or contact these cancer-related organizations for more information.
A video series for young adults with cancer
Thank you to all of the cancer survivors who participated in this video. Footage was pulled from more than 200 cancer survivor interviews conducted by the LIVESTRONG Foundation since 2003.
This video was supported by the Cooperative Agreement Number U58/CCU6230066-04 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.