November 21, 2011
Breast Cancer Patient: Pain Calls for Resourcefulness
BY Mary Brolley
Dara Insley is a pain warrior.
Treatment for breast cancer in 2009 and 2010 involved two extensive and delicate surgeries -- one a double mastectomy and another in her armpit and neck -- as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Although Insley is relieved and grateful to be free of cancer, she's dealt with chronic pain and discomfort since treatment ended last year.
Pain is considered chronic when it persists for longer than three months. Insley says her pain is varied and unpredictable.
"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.
She prefers to use nonmedical means of controlling her pain.
"Dark chocolate, music, exercise," she says. "Crying. Praying."
And her secret weapon.
Endorphin addict' uses exercise as distraction
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.
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," Insley says.
A self-described "endorphin addict," she 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.