Khevin Barnes is a Male Breast Cancer survivor, magician and speaker. He is currently writing, composing and producing a comedy stage musical about Male Breast Cancer Awareness. He travels wherever he is invited to speak to (and do a little magic for) men and women about breast cancer. www.BreastCancerSpeaker.com www.MaleBreastCancerSurvivor.com
I don’t like the pain that goes with my cancer. The emotional stress has been greatly reduced, indeed almost eliminated, by my full-time dedication to writing essays, blogs, stories, music and now a full-scale theatrical musical—all about male breast cancer. Writing has enhanced my cancer experience—literally beyond words.
But I’m a wimp when it comes to physical pain. A long-time competitive runner, I took to ingesting regular doses of aspirin for my knee and joint pain long before Ibuprofen had become available in the United States back in 1974.
My allergies to cats and grass seed prompted me to begin a life-long course of Benadryl, Actifed, Sudafed and those darned nose strips that I’ve been plastering to my nostrils for 20 years. So now, at the age of 66 with male breast cancer, arthritis, allergies and more, I must also come to terms with the fact that I am an addict.
Now there’s a word that carries a lot of emotional energy. But the fact is, whether the chemical we are dependent on is alcohol or heroin, caffeine or aspirin, the results are the same. A substance that I ingest has become the authority of my current state of health. So in order to lessen my pain and discomfort, I resort to falling back into addiction each and every day. In order to walk, I take aspirin. To lessen the continued pain in my mastectomy scar, I take Ibuprofen. At first glance it appears to be no big deal. But when I stop taking these chemicals, I hurt all over again.
So what can be done? I’ve already made it clear that I don’t like pain.
The problem for me and millions of others (I suspect it may actually be billions) is that I am caught between two worlds and two methods of coping with the pain of life. Living a “normal life” used to be just enjoying those hours in which I needed no medication to carry on with everyday activities. Gradually, over a period of years, my feelings about being normal have changed, and now are directly related to my last dose of medication.
I’m caught in the addictive cycle that has me taking more meds in order to stop the withdrawal symptoms and once again living in discomfort. Ultimately, I believe that the pain relievers have done me more harm than good, as now I am held captive in this mid-zone — a place where the only two choices I have seem to be “pain or no pain” and nothing in the middle — that very spot were life is designed to be lived. And it’s a cycle that grabs ahold of us in no uncertain terms and stalks us for the rest of our lives if we let it.
I’m determined to change that.
We’ll all be reading a lot about New Year resolutions over the next few weeks. I believe in them. I’ve always responded well to self-imposed challenges. But I’ve decided not to wait until Jan. 1 to begin this latest program that is certain to test me greatly while increasing the very pain I hope to extinguish. And so I've begun to cut back on the daily dose I take out of habit. This may take some time, but I’m willing to give it a go.
It’s interesting to see that this whole notion of pain vs. pain-free is a huge part of my own routine for cancer survival. I’ve learned in my quest to eradicate cancer from my body that I need to go to the root cause of my disease, to understand where and how it all began, to address my deepest fears in order to re-discover the sense of peace and freedom that I had in my pre-cancer days. It’s time for me (and modern medicine in my opinion) to stop simply treating the symptoms of illness.
There is no single way of treating cancer or its impact on our lives, but we can take a look at our own habitual, addictive or destructive behaviors and trust that given half a chance, our bodies know what to do. And so, my methodical program for gradually allowing pain back into my life has begun. Naturally, there are many instances when deep, heavy-duty pain relief is both necessary and mandatory. In my case, it’s the habitual, automatic and unconscious action to dull all pain that has me concerned.
Feedback and experiences from CURE readers would be most welcomed by me. How do you experience your pain? Cancer, more than anything, demands that we tune in to what our bodies are telling us.
I’m all ears.