Pink ribbons are everywhere. It must be October. While almost everyone knows someone who has had breast cancer, many people might not know about the very real, difficult and lasting effects some people experience. Since women tend to put on a brave face and act like everything is fine, chronic pain from breast cancer is something that’s not talked about enough. So, we reached out to two survivors, Jane Schwartzberg and Cathleen Killeen-Pittman, who have experienced ongoing pain, and here’s what they had to say:
Jane: The hardest part about ongoing pain is that although everything looked perfectly fine, my appearance did not match how I felt. Sometimes, I worried that the pain was actually an indication of more cancer, as opposed to a result of surgery and treatment.
Cathleen: One challenge of dealing with chronic pain as a result of treatments is not wanting to admit or share the level of pain. I felt so fortunate to have survived that to complain about pain seemed inappropriate and ungrateful. I also felt that others suffered on a much greater level, so I would minimize my suffering.
How did you deal with it?
Jane: I tried to be as kind to myself as possible – I got lots of rest, ate well, and tried to manage my stress. I also maintained a very regular relationship with my doctor and always let him know what was hurting and what my concerns were. In this way, he could put my mind at ease so that even if I was still hurting, I would not be as worried.
Cathleen: Life after treatments can be surprising. You think you get through each milestone (surgeries, chemo, and radiation), and you can put it behind you. That’s really not the case for many survivors. There can be a long-term price to pay when receiving treatments that potentially save your life, and it’s worth it. You just keep waiting for that time that you can truly put things behind you but that day does not come easily for those who have chronic pain as a result.
What do you want your friends and family to understand?
Jane: I would want them to know that although treatment is over, the impact of the cancer battle both physically and emotionally goes on for years and years. Life does not go back to “normal,” whatever that may be, simply because treatment is done. It requires lots of support, patience and time.
Cathleen: It may be difficult for friends and family to understand the extent of the long-term effects as it’s very difficult to describe the pain in a way that someone can understand. It’s hard to describe the bone pain that wakes you in the middle of the night, the burning in the hands and feet from chemo, sleeping sitting up to get some relief from broken ribs or skin grafts.
What can loved ones do to help?
Jane: The best thing loved ones can do is to provide steadfast, unconditional love and support. This could take many forms. In my case, sometimes it means accompanying me to a medical appointment. Other times it may mean simply letting me vent about having physical restrictions.
Cathleen: Knowing there are people who will love me no matter where I am in the process helps me all the time. I think this is the case with all of us, not just those of us who have been ill.
– Raising Awareness about Women & Cancer Pain – PainPathways article