Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Proverbial Goalpost - Pain Medication, Recovery and Cancer

Do you remember an old episode of "Desperate Housewives" where one of the housewives (I haven't watched the show in ages, so I don't remember which one - or her character's name) gets into her son's Ritalin and goes on a speed bender?  She gets all productive, can't sleep but is accomplishing so much she doesn't care or notice.

The scene I remember in particular is one where the other housewives find her at dawn on a foggy morning, clutching the goal post at her son's soccer field, rocking like a baby and muttering to herself because she finally crashed.

I keep thinking of this episode, because the steroids they give me when I receive chemo every Tuesday (to prevent an allergic reaction to one of the chemicals) have this effect on me.   I come home from chemo all charged up, feeling awake and alert and ready to be productive.  I can't usually sleep on Tuesday nights because of it, but I give in to it and use the time to do quiet (but productive) activities like making jewelry or responding to emails (last night found me up at 2am, wrapped in a blanket and sipping tea and working my way through my Inbox).

After about five hours of sleep, I popped out of bed this morning at 7am like a whirling dervish (I felt like that Kelly Ripa commercial where she whips clothes out of the dryer and they fall effortlessly onto her kids).  After the kids got on the bus I made overdue phone calls, vacuumed the first floor, folded laundry and picked up most of the rooms in the house.  All before 10am.   My husband joked that we don't need a cleaning service - we just need to feed me a couple of steroids every other Tuesday and set me loose.

The crash comes, though, by tonight, and I'm back to the bone-tired weariness and lots of sleeping.

All of this is a steroid-induced preamble to my point, which is that I've received lots of emails from people in recovery asking how I'm handling pain medication during the course of my treatment.

The answer is simple: carefully, and with respect.  I respect that the pain is real, that I need to take medication for it, and that I need to follow the doctor's advice.  I'm very vocal with all the doctors and nurses about my history of alcoholism (and I clarify that even though my history doesn't involve drug addiction that doesn't mean I don't need to be as careful with drugs as any addict would be).   I don't necessarily take a first recommendation at face value; I always ask about other options, addictive qualities of medications and whether natural options are available that would work just as well as what the doctors are suggesting (this was true in the earlier part of my treatment - Melatonin for sleep is an example).

I examined all my pain medication options, and chose the one that seemed the best for me, that had the least likelihood of becoming habit forming for me over the course of my treatment.  In my case, at this point, it's a patch that I wear that dispenses medication slowly and is replaced every three days.  I like that it doesn't involve my discretion on when to take it, or how much to take, and so far it isn't producing unpleasant side effects or cravings.

I may need to take more, heavier dosage pain medication as my treatment progresses, and at every step I will be careful and respectful. I am talking to people in recovery about it, too, getting advice from all sides.

Some people in recovery feel strongly about the topic of pain medication (mainly that it should be avoided if at all possible, and some even consider it a relapse), and I listen to what they have to say, but I will choose the course that is right for me, my treatment and my pain.  I've been around the recovery world long enough to know that if you ask 100 people the same question, you will get 100 different answers, and some of them will be very opinionated.   The trick is to listen with an open mind and heart, but to always balance advice with what is right for me, and then to run what I think is right for me past my inner circle of recovery- my most trusted friends - who will tell me if I'm lying to myself.

The Desperate Housewives image - as funny as it is - is also a reminder to be careful.

As a woman in recovery I don't like feeling out of it anymore. I don't like the feeling that I'm looking at the world through a fog.  Thankfully, so far that isn't happening, and with the exception of the steroids I haven't noticed any appreciable side effects from any of the medication I'm taking.

As difficult as this is - this whole journey through cancer - I want to be present for it, feel the emotions, work through the tough stuff.  When I come out on the other side I want to have grown.

If I were still drinking, there would be no growth.  If I were drinking, cancer would be a Grade A, World Class excuse to drink, no matter how bad it would be for my body and my treatment.

There are moments when I want to escape - to pull some secret trapdoor and just drop out of my life for a while.  When I get like this, I start talking, because I know it's the first step towards wanting to be out of it altogether.

For now, though, I will enjoy my bursts of productivity, while keeping a wary eye out for the proverbial goalpost.


  1. Thank you for sharing this aspect of your cancer treatment. My mother is a recovering alcoholic (over 30 yrs) and so all of my life I have been super aware of addiction. So aware that while I was taking an opium-based narcotic for my deteriorating spine I would only take the bear minimum for fear of addiction. Four years later I occasionally wish for that blissful, numbing, block-out-the-world experience that those drugs provided and it scares the hell out of me.

    I've also got to add that I admire your strength through all of this. My thoughts are with you.

  2. you are honest, open, willing..... and wise!

  3. Thank you for speaking about your boundaries with and reactions to the pain medication and steroids during treatment, and the perspective that comes with having abused a substance in the past. Your words are so vital for people to hear and remember. Not only for themselves, but for others who are facing cancer treatment or any of a million hurdles that might send them back into dulling the pain and not being present and healthy in their journey. Love you and your transparency. *HUG*

  4. Darling, I've taken pains meds multiple times in my 16 years sober. I'd be happy to talk to you about it, but please don't martyr yourself with pain. :)

  5. Hey there Ellie! I remember those episodes about the Desperate Housewife raiding ritalin. It's insane the stupid false bars we set for ourselves as women these days.

    You are just so funny - especially about Steve and the housecleaning stuff!

    And Cecily says...don't be a pain martyr!

    Hugs and love and prayers to you.

  6. You are a strong woman Ellie. I wish I never wanted to be in the fog you describe and think if I were in your situation I'd welcome it. But I also think I am not as honest with myself about the level of my addictive personality. I wonder if you can even know how awesomely inspiring you are in the midst of one of the hardest battles of your life. Sending love and hope. Joanne

  7. Ellie, you are doing so GREAT. Your willingness to explore all aspects of your pain management is so inspiring. You stop at nothing to protect that precious gift. That said, I took a pain med when I had a c-section with my youngest and had no problems with it. There was no buzz to it, even though it's one of those meds people can be addicted to. I told someone I didn't know what the big deal was with it, why people liked it, since for me, it felt like taking ibuprofen. They said I wasn't "doing it right". I refrained from asking them how to "do it right". : D

    I love that you trust your doctors. They have all the information they need to help you skirt any pot holes and I'll bet they're impressed with how honest you've been about your recovery. Bravo! xoxo

  8. I'm so glad you are talking - or writing,as the case may be, for your wellbeing and for those who will learn from you.

    It's got to be hard, the ups and downs, when you have spent the last however many years trying to get away from that pattern. And yet here you are, braver than braver, honest and true in everything you are doing.


    Deep bow, thanks and love to you...

  9. I'm sorry that pain management is such dangerous territory. As if you don't have enough on your plate. It sounds like you're managing it with wisdom and support and I think that's the best anyone can do. Lots of love.

  10. Sounds like you have got one amazing team on your side - professionals, friends, family, and let's not forget yourself!! I was thinking of you at supper tonight out at a restaurant with my hubby. I mused out loud... "Halfway. Halfway through...." and I was thinking with gratitude that there is more behind you now than in front of you. Pain is a reality of treatment, I guess. That you've been up front from the get-go with the doctors, with your family, with yourself ... is a testament to your growth in recovery. Blessings upon you, healing to you as you proceed with the last half of treatment ... your honesty, faith, and tenacity are so encouraging.

  11. Have you ever looked for best online pharmacy sites? They provide some good information and if your lucky, a forum will give you good dose of information.

  12. Don't you just hate it when those drugs act a little too "effective"? Sometimes I think it would be better if their cost was really pretty high, just to keep people from using them too much.