I found myself thinking about pain yesterday. Not the mental and emotional pain that comes with our journey, but the physical stuff. The pressure of tumours on areas they shouldn’t be, the pain of recovery after surgery, the pain that can sometimes be ongoing. I remember once imploring my tumour to stop hurting so that I could get some sleep. It use to burn and throb in my breast. And to my surprise it did just that. It’s an incredible thing how much control we actually have over the way experience our pain, isn’t it.

In hospital recently, the morning nurse greeted me with ‘oh you’re the one who doesn’t take anything’. Well, not quite true. A bit of mild paracetamol works wonders in taking the edge off. But if I can, I’d rather find another way than the codeine that binds you up making life a little unpleasant, let alone the harder morphine derivatives. And so I get through most of what I need to get through using everything I know about managing pain in other ways. Having a great doctor certainly helps reduce the need for pain relief. And sometimes the deeper breathing helps. Because it’s hard to feel pain when you’re relaxed, isn’t it. Sometimes it’s in distracting myself with things that make me feel good. A hobby, a funny movie, a relaxation CD, anything really. I’ve read that Norman Cousins found that just ten minutes of laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. Again, it’s about the choices we make isn’t it. Do we want to watch a funny movie that will help our healing, or do we want to watch the latest NCIS with it’s gruesome storyline? I deliberately chose to watch ‘Are You Being Served’ a few hours post surgery, and I’m sure this helped reduce my pain. I was too busy laughing to notice.

Sometimes it can just be in the reframing of the pain that I find it easier to manage. If I resist it, I just seem to tense up and it gets worse, but if I step back and observe it, notice it, where it is in my body, how it feels, what it looks like, what colour it is, it somehow seems to diffuse it. I remember hearing someone say that at least if they are in pain they know they’re alive. And I guess I’ve learnt to look at the positives of post surgery discomfort – at least I’ve still got some sensation in the areas I want to be sensitive!

But of course there are days I can’t do it all myself and I am happy to have a little bit of help. A good massage last week, took the burning out of the muscles of my shoulder that are learning to work differently. It’s also brilliant for breaking up adhesions. Physio exercises when I am disciplined to do them also help to rehabilitate. And I remember once, a few years ago, my body just couldn’t take the stress anymore. I bent over and locked up and the pain just kept ramping up until I was vomiting. I’ve never experienced anything like it. And this is when I am most grateful for my husband’s knowledge and training. After watching me for 20 minutes or so, he simply gave me just one adjustment and the whole thing shut down. I went straight to sleep and when I woke up, the pain was gone. I’ve never experienced anything so powerful. An open mind opens up a whole world of options, doesn’t it.

And probably for me the most healing has been the healing of painful emotions which has brought me such physical relief. In healing my feelings, I am no longer pouring these inflammatory chemicals through my system, minute to minute, day to day. And so my body copes with things so much better. Because, what I’ve learnt most about the management of pain, is that if I can take the physical, mental and emotional stress out of my body, no matter which path I take to do this, everything just relaxes and the pain just seems to melt away…

I wonder, have you ever noticed how good things can come out of the most difficult of circumstances? I can honestly say it’s happened more than once in my life. And so I am learning to trust the bigger picture.

The truth of this was again made real to me a couple of days ago. Minus 8 degrees overnight and as we warmed the car to get the ice off the windscreen, I suddenly noticed the ice crystals on the window. They took my breath away. Stunning little mandalas of such beauty. My daughter captured them in a photograph. And I realised that without the extreme cold of the night before, they would never have been created. Out of something as plain as a drop of water, it took the cold darkness of the night for this beauty to be born …

Sherry’s blog is spot on. I couldn’t agree with her more! Many people don’t realise stress is like the clothes we wear. We get so use to it we don’t feel it anymore. It seems that many women suffer a massive emotional stress before the onset of breast cancer, I know I did and so did many women I know of. Divorce, the loss of a child, the loss of a home are huge emotional losses. And then the stress of life just seems to bring on the inevitable.

The latest science is showing us that when we are chronically stressed our immune system gets shut down, which seems to actually allow the cancer to develop. My husband always says ‘cancer is something we’ve lost’, not something we’ve gained, because in cancer we lose our ability to get rid of cancer cells as they develop. This for most people, and at different times in our own lives, is a normal body process. Isn’t it empowering to view cancer from this perspective. That we can actually play a part in protecting our ability to deal with rogue cells. I was so lucky to have Steve involved in my recovery because he was able to measure the stress in my body and then help me to reduce it using biofeedback and adjustment techniques. There’s a bunch of about 50 neurologically based chiros like him in the US, Canada, Britain, Europe, South Africa and Australia who help people to recover from cancer in the same way. There’s also a great book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky that’s an easy read for those who like the science. The 2008 National Geographic documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer focuses on Robert Sapolsky’s work – it’s eye opening.

Thanks for your blog Sherry and for going out on a limb. I love the poem.