Day 27 – What is lung cancer pain REALLY like?
Well, it depends on the person, their cancer, their treatment, their tolerance and more! I know, you want a one-size fits-all answer, and I did too but there isn’t one. Everyone’s cancer is different – where it has spread and the subsequent symptoms will likely not be the same for you as they are for the patient in the chemo chair next you. Your general health and disease progression will make a difference. How you tolerate pain will likely be different and the intensity of your acute or chronic pain will make a difference is the ways you manage your pain.
People with lung cancer typically express that they feel physical pain in some form during their journey: shortness of breath, a feeling of ‘drowning’ in their own fluids or suffocation from not feeling as though they can catch their breath, unrelenting pain in the affected area, weakening of the body and muscle wasting, loss of balance and neurological concerns if it has spread to the brain. Additionally, bowel and bladder control issues can be present if it has spread to the spine or peritoneal (belly) area, sweating/fever and fluid accumulation in the belly if it has spread to the liver, etc. There are potential side effects of treatments, such as nausea/vomiting, bleeding, immune system depression and weakness with chemotherapy, the need for draining accumulating fluid, metabolism and thermoregulation changes which might come with prescribed steroids, feeling ‘loopy’, intensely tired or out of control with powerful pain medications, etc. It is important to evaluate these potential (or actual) side effects against feeling the physical symptoms of cancer, which is an ongoing process and choice for the patient and care team, and may change even dailly!
What is is like to have cancer?
Beyond potential pain and physical changes, people with lung cancer can feel a sense of urgency to experience items on their ‘bucket list’ and make memories and family decisions. They might feel a sense of depression, exclusion from gatherings, or fear pending loss (of independence, time or tender moments, for example). Self-care may suffer if they don’t recognize a need logically because of neurological changes; they may also simply loose this form of self-awareness, or develop a ‘why bother?’ attitude if they lose hope for a healthy future. Overwhelming anxiety may riddle the daily routine. Someone might experience ‘survivor’s guilt’, feeling a sense of “why did I make it through cancer and she didn’t?” The most motivated of businessmen might lose focus and dedication to his intellectual growth, and the staunch spiritual advocate may turn her back on God.
Concurrently, numerous people, patients and caregivers alike, have shared that they develop a sense of empowerment and/or peace at some point on their cancer journey. Resolving a lingering conflict with a family member or being able to communicate more directly without fear of reprisal or reprimand. Some feel that their ‘give-a-shit’ factor has diminished and they are more willing to try new things or speak their mind. 🙂 Some create and work to complete new ‘bucket list adventures’, and some hone in on family time and monopoly game moments. Some work to stay strong and share hope for emerging treatments on the horizon, some sit quietly being eternally optimistic, and some advocate to make a difference in the world with something they do or say, create or share. “Perspective: a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” The feelings you feel and that others feel are rarely a straight path, here’s to you and however you deal with this beast in this moment!