Friday, October 31, 2008

Fixing Myself - One minor ailment at a Time

I actually felt good today. Not just physically good, but also almost free of anxiety. Cancer brings on a lot of anxiety. Every ache and pain feels like a cancer recurrence. Two weeks ago I began the journey of trying to understand every physical issue that was bothering me. It’s a long list and I’m going to talk about each one. So, for those who don’t really want to read about someone else’s minor health problems, there is no need to read any further. But, for those of you that are in my situation or are helping someone like me, this may actually be instructive. In order of what has been bothering me physically, here goes. 1) A change in vision. 2) Lateral arm movement and shoulder pain. 3) Fatigue and always feeling cold. 4) An acute pain in my jaw that seems to happen about once every 4 months and lasts for 24 hours. The mind plays funny tricks on cancer patients. Being paranoid is not too strong of a term to describe it. Every one of these could be caused by some serious disease. I decided to attack each of these individually two weeks ago and to get some answers.

1) Vision – I had my eyes checked. My prescription glasses had not changed in decades. My eye doctor confirmed following my exam that my vision had deteriorated a little, but he saw no signs of eye cancer or eye nerve cancer. He prescribed a new pair of glasses in the 20/40 range. My anxiety about my eyes is now gone. I also have a new pair of glasses and my vision with glasses is 20/20.

2) Lateral arm movement and shoulder pain – I visited my family doctor. It was my first visit with him in over 3.5 years. I told him my concern about ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) or MS since it was attacking both arms and shoulders in a similar fashion. I asked to see a neurologist. He suggested an orthopedic surgeon. After listening to his reasoning, I agreed with him. I saw the orthopedic surgeon. He first did a full set of shoulder x-rays. Based on those findings he did an extensive MRI on each shoulder. We then discussed the results. He sees a slight tear in the tissue between my ball and socket in the shoulder on the right side and stiffness in both. Although he can’t rule out MS or ALS with this type exam, he felt strongly based on other patients that this was an orthopedic problem and not a neurological issue. He thinks a 10 minute procedure under light anesthetic, some shots into each shoulder and forcing a breakup in the stiffness via arm manipulation in each shoulder would do me wonders. I’m not ready for that, but I’m now anxiety free about this being a serious disease.

3) Fatigue and always feeling cold – I’m still on a daily chemo pill. My last chemo IV was August 18th (2.5 months ago). I really thought I should be feeling much better than I have been lately. While visiting with my family doctor he did some blood tests. He called and said one test showed a slow thyroid. My TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) was at 15. It should have been between .5 and 5. There is an inverse relationship between the count and a hyper versus slow thyroid. The higher the count, the slower the thyroid. I looked up “slow thyroid” on Google. The first sentence in the first site I visited said the primary symptoms of a slow thyroid were fatigue and feeling cold. I began a thyroid replacement medicine yesterday. They say it could take a few weeks for it to kick in. But, I’m no longer anxious about these symptoms. This is a very plausible explanation. One other point on this issue. When I received radiation treatment in mid 2005, my radiologist said that the radiation could actually cause thyroid problems and possibly even thyroid cancer 20 years down the road. At the time, I understood the risks and went forward with the treatment plan.

4) An acute pain in my jaw – I visited a local ear, nose, and throat doctor referred to me by my family doctor. Although my care at MD Anderson is superb, I wanted a really fresh set of eyes on this and a few others facial pain issues. After listening to me describe my symptoms, he described TMJ. TMJ is basically a facial muscle pain that can bring on the exact pain I was feeling. It is caused by trauma to the jaw which could be the result of an accident or surgery. We also talked about a way to address chronic pain left over from my July 2006 surgery. It is a nerve blocker medicine. If this nerve blocker medicine works I could then begin reducing and maybe even eliminating some of the stronger pain medicines that I take daily. I began this new medicine today. It too will take a few weeks to figure out if it works. Again, with a plausible explanation for the acute pain, my anxiety level is far reduced.

Here are the lessons to take away from the above. Break the problem down, address each methodically, seek appropriate specialists, and be proactive. I can’t tell you that there is not something seriously wrong with me. But today, I feel like a real weight has been lifted off of me for the first time in over 3.5 years. I don’t know how long this optimism will last, but it is so very welcome. I’m looking forward to the physical results of these new drugs over the next few weeks.

I hope this was helpful. That’s it for now. Thanks for checking in and take care of yourself.

1 comment:

mw said...

It was very helpful for me to read your systematic way of approaching your pains and your anxieties about them. Even for someone without cancer, or without any physical pain, this is a great reminder that most anxiety can be addressed and diminished.

Even economic anxieties can be addressed in this way, by making the time and having the courage to look at one's true financial situation, going to an expert for advice or getting another pair of eyes to look things over, making changes if needed, etc.

Sometimes it all seems overwhelming, when there are so many different things going on, to get any one of them checked out, so I applaud your actions and thank you for sharing them with us. It's motivating to see how you took control over what you actually can control.