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Breast Cancer Survivor: Pain Calls for Resourcefulness

Network - Fall 2011

By Mary Brolley

"Dark chocolate, music, exercise,” Dara Insley pauses. “Crying. Praying.”

And her secret weapon.


Insley is describing how she deals with the chronic pain that is a frequent companion since her double mastectomy and subsequent extensive armpit and neck surgery in 2010.

Pain is considered chronic when it persists for longer than three months.

After her diagnosis with breast cancer in late 2009, Insley underwent chemotherapy, then had a double mastectomy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in May 2010.

When it was discovered that there was major lymph node involvement, her oncologist at Walter Reed sent her to MD Anderson.

She had the second surgery in June 2010.

She doesn’t know what causes her pain, and its type varies.

'Endorphin addict' uses exercise to relieve pain

“Sometimes, it’s like a gripping vice around my whole arm. Other times, my shoulder feels like someone is clamping down on it. And sometimes it's actual sharp pins-and-needles pain in my arm or finger,” she says.

Her surgeon, Merrick Ross, M.D., professor in the Department of Surgical Oncology, was solicitous and understanding about her reports of pain. He offered pain medication, but deferred to her wishes when she declined.

“He said some of his patients had used Lyrica® with success. But I told him I didn’t want to deal with side effects or add stress to my kidneys, if I could avoid it.”

A self-described “endorphin addict,” Insley prefers to exercise to ease her pain.

“I remember my first visit post-surgery. I was worried he might say it was too soon to exercise. But when I told him I was dying to, he said, ‘No, you go, superstar! You go!’” she recalls, laughing.

Insley also deals with the trials, tribulations and, yes, amusing aspects of cancer and its treatment at her two websites: (suitable for all ages) and (for mature audiences).

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center