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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My body in pain

Apologies to Elaine Scarry for riffing off her title, but I have been thinking about pain and my body lately since I have been experiencing the side effects of Taxol.

I would say that I'm a textbook case for chemo, both AC and Taxol, meaning, if there is a drug side effect, I'm more than likely to feel it. So when the nurses told me that possible side effects of Taxol would include joint and muscle pain, which would begin 2-3 days after chemo and last 4-5 days, I wasn't surprised to find myself, on Saturday afternoon, with joint and muscle pain.

Now, I have to say, if I had to choose between feeling nauseous and having joint/muscle pain, I'd gladly choose the latter (well, maybe not "gladly" but I absolutely HATED being nauseous). The nice thing about Taxol is that there really isn't any nausea involved, although the power of the mind is incredible. When I was in the chemo chair getting my pre-meds (a round of steroids and liquid benadryl with saline) I started to feel queasy. The pharmacist was making her rounds just then, and I asked her whether or not this was a psychosomatic response--to which she said, more than likely since there was nothing they were giving me that should make me feel nauseous. But my body had been so conditioned to reacting in a certain way whenever I was in the chemo chair--to feeling nauseous the minute I started to get any drugs, that the queasiness was probably an anxiety reaction as well as psychosomatic reaction. The pharmacist, Chris, was hopeful that if I could break the cycle--have a non-nauseous experience in the chair, then I wouldn't have the reaction the next time.

It seems amazing that our minds are so powerful that they can elicit a response in our bodies. Which brings me back to pain. As I've felt the aches and pains of my joints and muscles, I've wondered if I can just sit with the pain or breathe through it. I've taken alleve and extra strength tylenol and when it's been really bad percocette, but I've also tried to just sit with it--to see if it can be a mind over matter situation.

The problem with pain, however, is that when you are experiencing it--you just want it to stop. You want relief. You don't want to feel achey and sore (and just to let you know, my pain has not been acute for the most part--it's more like the kind of aches and soreness you experience when you are running a high fever). So it has been hard to just sit with it--because the alleve, tylenol, and percocette dull the pain but don't remove it from my body. The other thing about pain, though, is that it makes me feel my body--to think about all the ways that I take for granted how I literally move in the world. I mean, how many times do we think about our hip muscles or our backs or our calves, until we feel a twinge or an ache or until these various parts of our bodies no longer function the way they used to. As my body has experienced these various aches and pains, I've tried to really think about how often my body used to work well in the past--and how hopeful I am that when the side effects of the Taxol are over, when the chemo is through, when I'm finally healed from the upcoming surgery, that I will forget the pain I'm currently feeling. Because that's the thing about pain. It's so easy to forget what it felt like once the experience is over, a blessing I suppose because how terrible would it be to remember, viscerally and literally, the experience of pain once it has subsided?

Finally, to wrap up, I'll say that yesterday may have been the worst I felt during chemo. The joint and muscle pain was intense and intensified because I was running a fever all day, one that moved from 99.8 to 100.8. I called my nurse Delma, who told me not to worry about the fever until I reached 101.5 or higher. At that point, they become worried that an infection has set in, either respiratory or UTI. So I took tylenol and then basically shivered it out all day. Even though it was 94 degrees outside, I was in sweats and had 2 blankets piled on top of me at one point. But my fever finally broke around 11:45pm last night, and so far I seem to be out of the woods, so no emergency room or trip to the doctor's office for me today (knock on wood!).


  1. I remember reading an account of a woman who had gone through chemotherapy. For years, every time she saw her oncologist (in the hospital or in the grocery store), she threw up. This illustrates the power of association this blog entry discusses--and it also seems like poetic justice! I hope Jennifer can break the cycle of associations that makes her continue to feel nauseous. Since she has conquered so many other obstacles, I'm confident that this one too will soon be overcome.

  2. There was just a review in the NYT about a book called The Pain Chronicles (memoir), that sounded very interesting...