Dealing with the Pain of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a challenging and rare form of cancer that primarily afflicts people who have been exposed to asbestos. Those who receive this difficult diagnosis often come to it after experiencing mysterious pains and other symptoms, and unfortunately the pain of the condition does not go away with its identification. Cancer-related pain can be extreme, but relief is available. In fact, according to the World Health Organization 85% to 97% of all cancer pain can be controlled. There are a number of methods that your physician and health care providers can use to assist you, including a number of therapies that are specifically designed to alleviate pain through surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, but opioids and other medications can also offer tremendous help.
The pain that comes from mesothelioma come arise for a number of reasons, but the two most common ones are the cancer itself and the treatments that you are receiving. Mesothelioma tumors can put pressure on your body’s organs, bones and nerves, or can obstruct important blood vessels. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as well as surgery, can have side effects that can range from unpleasant to extremely painful, and can result in a range of sensations including cramping, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, numbness in the extremities, and bone and joint pain. Even minor procedures such as biopsies can cause irritation and discomfort to those who are already feeling ill, and there is no reason to tolerate these feelings, as drug and non-drug therapies are available to help.
Though your physician is intent on helping you in every way that they can, they are not able to experience your pain so it is important that you communicate with them. Nobody is going to think of you as a “whiner” or “complainer” for asking for help. Tell your physician when you are uncomfortable and let them know where it hurst, how much it hurts and if there is anything specific that you are doing that makes the pain worse or better. That is how they will be able to most effectively provide you with the help that you need.
Many cancer patients are hesitant about taking pain medication. They fear that they will become “drug addicts,” or that if they rely upon them too heavily at the beginning of their course of treatment there will be “nothing left” for them to use later on, as their disease progresses. Both of these concerns are unfounded. The pain medications that are provided are generally opioids, and because some opioids such as heroin are used recreationally in order to get high, the entire class of medication has become guilty by association. This association is not appropriate, as the opioids that are provided for mesothelioma pain are administered under a physician’s orders in order to treat chronic or breakthrough pain. Addiction occurs when a person is taking them out of a psychological need to feel better emotionally or to get “high” rather than to treat a physical pain. Though it is true that patients may become physically dependent upon pain medications, that issue can be resolved through a careful dosing plan.
Mesothelioma patients who take pain medications are also frequently concerned that if they take pain medications early in their treatment they will become too accustomed to the drug’s impact and it will not provide them with the relief that they seek later on, when their pain may be more intense. This is another mistaken belief. Though the body may become tolerant of a pain medication to the point where side effects are no longer experienced, the analgesic impact of opioids does not diminish over time. Mesothelioma patients should be encouraged to accept the relief that these drugs offer, as there is no good reason or reward for suffering through pain.
It is also important for mesothelioma patients to remember that any pain medication that is offered is just one of a number of options that are available. Your physician has a large selection of techniques and drugs available to help you feel better, so if a particular option is not working for you, let them know so that they can provide you with other, more effective options. Though the particular treatment approach that you and your healthcare team choose is going to be highly personalized based upon your needs and the progression and type of your mesothelioma, mesothelioma pain is a universal fact, so your team is likely to already have an extensive arsenal of pain management tools and a complete pain management plan at the ready. Do not stay quiet or complacent in the face of pain: ask for help so that your healthcare providers can do all that they can to improve the quality of your life.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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