Chapter 18: Send the Pain Below
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I never imagined in a million years that I would have cancer. I mean I had always assumed that I would die from some form of heart disease based on my lifestyle choices, but not cancer. Although the ailment was prevalent in my family gene pool and I always had that feeling in the back of my mind that I would get it someday– I did not think it would have been this early.
One December when I was about thirteen, I had some mild, but persistent chest aches. I went to the doctor and he asked me the typical questions:
Do you exercise? Do you eat fatty foods? Do you smoke? Do you drink? Partake in any recreational drugs?
Some, an emphatic yes, no, no, and no. I couldn’t explain the pain; it would come and go during the day. One of the only times that the pain would go away consistently was when I would play video games, more specifically Super Mario World. When I got lost in that game, I’d lose all uncomfortable sensations and forget about it entirely.
I had told the doctor this very fact, and he quickly dismissed it as anxiety. I wasn’t really sure how I had anxiety, but in retrospect with being in a foster home prior to this, and being largely (emphasis on large) unhealthy, it was no surprise that I could conjure or exacerbate these sensations subconsciously.
When New Year’s Eve hit that year, I remember watching TGIF anticipating the ball drop. I had chest pains so bad, that I thought I wouldn’t make it to the New Year; or if I did I’d be gone soon after. I actually that thought; crazy right?
Well, the New Year came and went. My chest pains subsided once I realized that the doctor was most likely right. I didn’t have any other sort of anxiety again from that point on. Hell, even when I was diagnosed with Anemia resulting from Leukemia, I just thought that I was tired and needed sleep.
And when I had that back pain due to the appendicitis, I didn’t immediately jump to Back Tumor!!; I knew that they would take care of me in the hospital. During the chest pains, I had researched what this anxiety was called and learned a pair of words that day: Hypochondria and its descriptive form; hypochondriac.
I never once thought that I would take ownership of this word, but I wondered had my path differed from the cancer diagnosis that I may have developed such a trait. It was in the family that was for sure, just like cancer and heart disease. Ironically, during my hospital stay, I was the exact opposite; I could feel myself getting better, taking the positive vibes and well wishes from staff, friends, and family. The aura of health was around me, and I never thought negatively of any outcome whether it be the Leukemia, the back pain, or even random chest pains.
Then one day, I received a shock. I awoke from my bed, which was in the recliner chair position (the most comfortable way to sleep in these beds), and as I got up to pee, I nearly collapsed, pulling my IV pole down with me. Both Sharp and dull pain were shooting all across my legs. It felt like a cartoon character had just dropped an anvil on my legs, crushing them instantly.
I hobbled over to the bathroom (as though I had thrown my back out), and did my business. That trip took nearly ten minutes. Then I trekked back, each step killing me over and over. By the time I got to my bed, I smacked that nurse button like it had kicked me in the groin. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of waiting until morning again…
Can I get some pain meds? My legs just caught on fire and I can’t walk. The night nurse quickly came in and examined my legs. All of her pressure on the legs didn’t return any results. They just hurt: no more, no less. Since I had no way of proving it, I felt like she’d accuse me of hypochondria, just like the doctor labeled me all of those years ago.
Instead, she took me seriously; she ordered some pain meds for me right away and scheduled an ultrasound for the next day. The medication helped manage the pain a bit. It was weird how I had no clue as to the cause, but I knew that as before, they would figure it out and take care of me.
The next day’s appointment came and went… considering it was only six hours later. First, Doctor McGann came in to do her own examination. The results were the same, and I expected the same “hypo” name-calling. Once again, my expectations were tempered as she said, “Everyone’s reaction to chemotherapy is different, and while everyone has nearly identical symptoms, some of these abnormalities can manifest such as this. We’ll do the test and go from there, okay?”
The transporter came promptly at five of eight and picked me up on the wheelchair. I wasn’t going to play up my self-righteous “I can walk” routine, no, not today. I just wanted this pain gone.
It was a chore to get to the chair. I contemplated sawing my legs off and hobbling over, but I didn’t want to get messy. The test was quick and easy. I loved the Ultrasounds or Cat Scans because they weren’t as claustrophobic-inducing as an MRI and it had a bonus effect of feeling like a test ripped straight out of a Sci-fi film.
I went back to my room, hopped up on morphine. They had tried several other drugs first for pain like Tylenol with Codeine for example, but it didn’t do anything for me. Eventually, this is the level of drugs at which we sat for this sheer, uncontrollable pain.
An hour or so later, Dr. McGann returned. I had little patience being unable to walk and I was getting bitter. She informed, “As I feared, the test results show no ostensible reason for the pain that you’re experiencing. We’ll keep an eye on it, and make sure you’re comfortable.”
I didn’t know what to say. There’s no reason for it? Shouldn’t a test like that reveal the issue? This better not be like the appendicitis. After she left, I threw on the television. Time to numb out for a bit.
I’d like to make a correction in regards to my broken wrist in third grade, and the appendicitis: THIS is the worst pain of my life.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.
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