Ashley Olsen, Program Director The Wellness Community-Montana
About one-third of the nation’s cancer patients suffer from significant pain (American Cancer Society, 2010) and The Wellness Community continues to see large numbers that unfortunately supports this. Pain may lead to a person’s inability to perform usual activities. Pain may reduce a person’s desire to be social. Pain may create restless and interrupted sleep. Pain may lead to feelings of depression and/or anxiety. Pain may stand alone; however, most times stress may exacerbate pain and pain may exacerbate stress. If we fail to recognize and treat both, we fail to encompass the entire person. Research reveals the importance of examining the whole person and points to addressing the emotional and social aspects of pain, together with physical care, as the best option for moving patients into self-management (Mayo Clinic, 2008).
There are two types of pain, chronic and acute. Chronic pain is pain that persists for more than six months. Acute pain persists for less than six months. Cancer-related pain may be related to the cancer’s location. In addition, some effective treatment options lend themselves to residual side effects, such as neuropathy. Misperceptions about addictions and/or abuse result in patients avoiding appropriate pain control. The under treatment of pain continues to be a widespread problem for people living with all types of pain. Patients and families do have the right to seek appropriate pain assessment and treatment. Having a doctor that provides you the time and attention you deserve will help in finding effective pain relief. Practicing open and honest communication with your doctor is vital for working as a team and collaborating about the various symptoms and treatment options.
The second component in pain treatment is examining the social and emotional aspects. Pain limits a person’s ability to partake in social activities, may lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness, and may impair sleep. For this reason, it is often helpful for patients to involve themselves with activities that calm and reduce stress. Activities that research points to being helpful are meditative practices, physical exercise, and psychosocial support. All of the programs The Wellness Community offers are researched-based and found to improve overall function and quality of life. Examples of these are: yoga, tai chi, Qi gong, meditation, support groups, and exercise-focused programs.
The purpose of these practices is to distract from the pain, and to re-direct focus towards a positive outlet. Meditation, for example, may take our mind to a calming place by working on deep abdominal breathing and/or imagery. If practiced daily, the ability to achieve the calming effects is heightened and the time it takes to get there is reduced. Soon you are able to distract yourself simply by remembering the place you have designed in your mind, or simply breathing the correct way. When distracted, our minds are not able to simultaneously focus on pain and symptoms. Support groups also provide a safe place to discuss, openly, the concerns that create stress or mood shifts. Support groups are designed to be a place of sharing in the comfort of others experiencing similar situations, such as pain. The feeling of “community” incurs as people share and offer feedback about what has been helpful to them. The Wellness Community’s groups are led by licensed therapists and we offer a variety of groups to fit every need. We believe fully in offering a variety of settings, so every person has the opportunity to feel a part of a “community.” Physical exercise is another avenue to reducing pain and stress. Exercise provides our bodies a way to build and strengthen, while providing our mind a release of stress. Exercise releases endorphins that create an overall sense of wellbeing and empowerment. It further provides an opportunity to strengthen areas that may create pain and discomfort, while creating flexibility that allows for freer movements. All exercise programs should be discussed with your health care provider before participation, to ensure safety for your individual condition.
When coping with pain, in addition to a cancer diagnosis, it is important to remember there are options. If cancer and/or pain have affected your life in the above ways, know that you are not alone. With one third of cancer patients suffering from persistent pain conditions, discussions surrounding this condition are inevitable. Whether it is something that affects your family, your work, your play, or other; it is something worthy of great attention and treatment. Be prepared to discuss specific symptoms with your healthcare provider at your next appointment. Inform them of the level of pain, the location of pain, the intensity of the pain, and the duration of the pain. This can help them decipher the source and the best treatment options for combating it. Further, talk openly with your family members about what you’re experiencing. It is difficult for those not experiencing the same to fully understand what you are going through; however, keeping lines of communication open ensures a better chance of them doing so. If you feel that pain has affected your relationships, seek out supportive systems to help you work through this. Licensed therapists can help you work through communication, intimacy, and problem solving. Support groups can reduce isolation and help you feel a part of a like “community.” Mind-body programs may help you to distract yourself from your pain and/or discomfort. By focusing your mind and/or breath on a positive outlet, you can begin to feel a reduction in overall stress and anxiety, while improving your overall ability to cope. Exercise programs can help you reduce your risk of injury and improve your overall physical health. A combination of several modalities allows you to be pro-active and to find the outlet that best supports your needs. You are in charge. You can take control of your pain. You can take back your life. You can enjoy, life…despite pain.
If you are seeking complementary ways of coping with cancer-related pain, reliable resources, support groups, and/or exercise programs please contact The Wellness Commmunity-Montana at 582-1600.