Opioids for Mesothelioma: Evaluate Your Own Pain

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All too often we see people describe pain to their doctor or caregiver on a scale of 1 to 10.

But pain is different for every patient. How we interpret and measure pain varies from person to person. My idea of a 4 may be an 8 to you.

A better measurement is to thoroughly describe the pain you feel. When I experience pain related to my mesothelioma or my treatments, I try not to skip out on the details.

For example, if you’re experiencing chest pain, is the pain in the inside or outside of your chest? Does it feel like a ball that you’re squeezing? Is it a sharp, stabbing pain?

How often does it occur? Does it come and go, or is it constant? Does it only happen when you’re doing a particular activity such as sleeping, walking or taking a deep breath?

For me, it’s a cramping pain. It is muscle related because of the cancer growth in my chest. Occasionally it would feel like someone is poking my pancreas under my rib cage.

But does that mean I need oxycodone? No, it doesn’t.

We all know about the opioid crisis facing our country.

Opioids and other pain medication can help control moderate to severe pain related to cancer or cancer treatments. However, we must be careful with our choices and in how we use these highly addictive drugs. I saw it as a nurse, and now I see it every day I work at my local pharmacy.

Cancer survivors are one of the categories of opioid addiction and opioid abuse, but no one ever questions it. People treat it as a “free pass” because we’re battling cancer.

Doctors overprescribe these medicines, especially among cancer patients. It’s our job to evaluate our own pain and, if we take these medications, do so responsibly and as needed.

A Battle I Never Wanted to Fight

When I had my pleurectomy and decortication in 2012, I was anticipating a long road to recovery.

Little did I know the biggest battle I would face after surgery would be dealing with all the pain management drugs doctors tried to push down my throat.

I’ve had surgeries in the past, and have dealt with my fair share of pain, but I always turned down the schedule II drugs when given the option.

After my mesothelioma surgery, I was in another world all the time because doctors were feeding me these meds. I was too foggy from the procedure to question it.

Like most, I just took the pills they handed me. What did I know?

And that’s the issue so many cancer survivors face. They become addicted to pain medications as soon as they have surgery. When the surgical pain is gone, they continue to take them.

Doctors often assume patients are in pain or uncomfortable, but obviously can never truly know how you feel.

I’ve had three shoulder surgeries in the past. For two of them, I had infusion pumps delivering lidocaine directly to the joint. I didn’t need pain pills.

Sometimes these medications may be necessary to manage pain, but doctors need to be more selective on when to prescribe them.

It’s a difficult situation, because you’re often not in the correct frame of mind to question it.

Normally, I would ask my doctor about something before taking it. But after my intense tumor-removing surgery, I was too foggy to even think of that. They woke me up, handed me pills, and I took them.

Taking Responsibility with My Pain Management

I usually take tramadol twice a day to manage pain. If I’m working and uncomfortable, I may take a third dose.

My medical oncologist, Dr. David Jackman, asked me if I needed something stronger. I told him emphatically, “I’m good.”

There isn’t a pill in the world that’s going to make my mesothelioma go away — or the pain that comes with this diagnosis.

Pain medications only mask pain; they don’t cure it.

So I have to figure out what works best in my life to control pain symptoms. That means changing positions when I’m uncomfortable and doing stretching exercises.

A little bit of pain isn’t a bad thing. It is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong or to take precaution. If you take a step and feel intense pain, that’s a sign that you shouldn’t take another, or you may fall.

Masking these pain signals can cause more harm than good.

I don’t think cancer patients should have to deal with constant pain, but I believe there are different kinds of pain.

Often medication is misused to treat the pain people have between their ears — their emotional pain — rather than their physical being.

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Mesothelioma Survivor

Emily Ward is a retired nurse and pleural mesothelioma survivor. She writes about her experience battling the disease as well as how her outlook on life has changed since her diagnosis.

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