How Can A Distraction Manage A Chronic Pain For A Cancer Survivor?

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Tien has shown a fervent strength despite the extreme pain she felt right after her 2nd surgery.

This is a personal story of one of the people who are close to me and just recently had her 2nd surgery. Her recovery is still in progress but we had noticed a remarkable progression from her.

You don’t know how strong this lady is. I salute her braveness despite the agonizing pain she felt for months. As I remember, after her 2nd surgery, she decided not to stay in her house and rest; instead, she jumped into the bus and traveled with us to one of the towns not really far from Saigon. That was not easy though, she felt dizzy, vomited and caught with a fever the day after. But, hey! That was just for days! Even that experience was not really nice if you try to imagine, but now she is gradually recovering, and the most noticeable recovery is – she did not feel the same pain anymore.

I am not talking that there is a miracle happened behind that sudden disappearance of her pain. There’s none. The pain that she felt during those days is actually normal and will eventually get better as the wound inside heals. Unfortunately, this pain sometimes last for months and for some people, it lasts a year. The pain she felt during those times is different from the pain I felt during the course of my treatment 2 years ago. And I could not really give an accurate personal judgment and compare her pain to mine even we were on the same journey.

The pain that I am actually talking is a severe pain where she can hardly breathe and keep losing weight every day. Afraid that her cancer is metastasized, so we decided to make a new appointment to a new doctor and one of the doctors we met ordered a blood test and assured us that there is no metastatic sign seen in her blood. We are not contented with this result as Tien still felt the same pain and it even gets worst and even us could not understand her anymore. Even herself could not understand why she feels that kind of pain. Sometimes, I don’t want to keep asking her the same question, how she is doing, because she still gives the same answer, “I feel pain”.

After many visits we did with different doctors in Saigon, different tests she has to take to understand the pain she felt inside, why she continuously losing weight – still, we have not acquired the answer we are demanding. Despite the daily suffering she felt, she was more than willing to live a new normal life.

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A meeting with Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor.
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A pulse diagnosis is like the “MRI” of traditional medical system.
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Another meeting with a Thyroid Oncologist.

Now here comes an “alternative therapy” which actually works for Tien during her recovery stage. Distraction draws a patient into a highly interesting activity to take his or her mind off pain or discomfort.* This is only effective for a patient who is experiencing pain but it does not cure cancer. When a patient is engaged in an interesting activity, it allows its mind being distracted by unpleasant thoughts or pain that can help the patient feel better.

The following are suggested activities and therapies can provide a distraction that might work well for every cancer patient:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Dance therapy
  • Imagery
  • Stories
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Virtual reality and computer games
  • Doing needlework or puzzles
  • Building models or painting
  • Watching TV

So, what are the activities Tien did that provide a distraction?

  1. Talk with friends and family
  2. Read books or articles online
  3. Listen to uplifting music (sometimes we go Karaoke)
  4. Go outside (she usually does this by herself, take a walk in the park)
  5. Take care of animals (there are 2 cats living at home, so whenever she is alone at home she feed and pet the cats)
  6. Travel (she usually travels with is in one of the towns outside Saigon)

These activities Tien did, are done at a slow pace, we still do encourage her not to force herself as she is still recovering. But her spirit showed the willingness to live a new normal life and recover completely. At the moment, Tien is inspired to do her job again as a freelance graphic and web designer. And in the future, she aims to visit her oncology doctor again to have another test done to make sure that there is no another cancer cell growing inside her body.

**This blog is not intended to give a professional medical advice. It is best to always seek advice from a qualified medical practitioner whatever medical condition you may or your loved ones have at the moment. Some medical accounts mentioned in this article are made from a careful research of the author, personal experiences shared from those who have similar cases like Tien, and a doctor’s prior validation what cause this pain to inflict her every day.

*Source: Distraction, Health Encyclopedia, University of Rochester Medical Center.

Photo courtesy of the owner.

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Connecting With Peer Survivors Can Help Others Manage Their Cancer Battle

December 2017, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Cielo finally met Beri for the first time, both are Leiomyosarcoma survivors.

In today’s world where everyone is connected yet, not connecting. Technology has made our world closer, smaller and more connected; however, we are losing the art of real communication. People are afraid of connecting with someone with real conversation, and I would like to imagine, too, how much more for a person who has just diagnosed with cancer.

For a cancer survivor like me, I had learned the importance of sharing my experiences with people I met in person or on social media. With my experience, the more I share my story with other people, the more I find myself healed. And in exchange for this, my stories also heal someone else. I love to tell my healing journey because it is so liberating to do so. Telling my story may take a lot of courage. But, by doing this, I also give other people permission to acknowledge their own story.

I met hundreds and thousands of patients and survivors for 2 years while I continue my healing journey and recovery from cancer. I received different responses from these people I met on how they are able to find strength and support to face the battle caused by cancer.

For the Vietnamese families I met and interacted with, I may not receive direct answers from them because of a language barrier, the important thing is, you are there to listen sympathetically.

In one of my visits in Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital, I saw different struggles of each and everyone who has been staying in the hospital for weeks or even for months. As I stand in one of the corners of the room, observing their silence, and realizing that that silence was too loud. Each time I look into their eyes, I hear the need to win this fight against cancer and the hope that the child they love will be healed.

How I am able to talk to these different people? I have to listen first. Whether the person who is talking in front of me talking a different language that I could not understand, I still listen, attentively. I let them talk until they pour everything what is inside that has been keeping for too long. They may be doing this to every stranger who is willing to listen; for all that, an intimate talk is necessary, for their battles with cancer never changes, it becomes a constant burden.

December 2017, I was given a chance to meet a peer survivor for the first time. Beri was also a Leiomyosarcoma survivor like me. It’s funny that we have the same site of the incision where the tumor was removed. Of course, we are too excited to show our scar to each other and started to talk how the tumor (lump) starts growing and ended up with different kinds of discussion. Our talk becomes heart-to-heart and we did not waste our limited time to get to know each other. Beri stayed in Vietnam for days but our connection remained low-key even on social media. Yes, we don’t need to chat all the time, but when the time comes that we have important or special things to talk about, we are still excited to start our dialogues.

Different connections, different way to be connected with people who have undergone cancer battle. How this connection can really be helpful managing their own struggle with cancer? If you ask me, with my different experiences of involvement in a various cancer community online, I also share what other survivors had presented to me.

To be connected to a peer survivor or community it can help someone to:

  1. Get information out from different personal experiences about their cancer and treatment.
  2. Gain support and motivation from others who experienced and found hope.
  3. Be inspired by various personal survival stories.
  4. Realize that many survivors have similar stories and experiences.
  5. Be in control of the difficult situation.
  6. Learn how to talk to everyone with no fear.
  7. Deal about the future with courage.

No one can do this alone. No one fights cancer alone. Everyone needs a support. Everyone needs to hear this. Everyone needs someone who can listen with compassion.

Let’s get more connected. As The Cancer Voice community is gradually building a stronger and closer relationship with people who silently fighting cancer every day, we are here to keep in touch and post future updates. You only need to listen, give a positive influence and a source of inspiration to them; in return, myself and the rest of the people who is involved in building this community is promising to give you more positive stories as much as we could.

Photo courtesy of the owner.