I debated for several weeks whether or not to post this blog as it relates to medications that were administered while undergoing cancer treatment. I decided not sharing this would go against my personal commitment to share my journey so that 1 person may benefit. So here I go.
In a nation where almost every other commercial on the television is pushing some drug for various conditions, you would think taking a pill to cure any ailments can be a good thing. Think again. Most of the drugs have an array of side effects. These are usually in the fine print which we can hardly read or see. So, taking a drug for one condition could very well lead to a new condition, one we did not have before. This was my primary concern when I fell ill. I had to take several drugs to help alleviate the pain and discomfort of stage 4 bone cancer. Without them I cannot say to what extent my pain would have escalated. I am grateful for the medications and the temporary purpose they served. However, there came a time when I had to start the intentional process of weaning myself off of them. I learned that narcotics such as morphine and oxycodone can be very difficult to wean off as they give us a sense of comfort and takes away the fear that the pain will return. Sometimes we continue to use the narcotics even though the pain is gone or has lessened. This can turn into a habitual use and can eventually lead to an addiction.
Medications I was prescribed (these are not the chemo drugs):
- Morphine for pain
- Oxycodone for pain
- Fentanyl patches for pain (high levels of narcotic content)
- Lidocaine patches for areas of high bone cancer presence
- Lorazepam for anxiety
- Docusate Sodium for constipation
- Senna for constipation
- Miralax for constipation
- Citalopram for depression due to chemo meds
- Famotidine to protect the stomach from chemo meds
- Zolpidem for insomnia
- Ondansetron for mild to moderate nausea due to chemo
- Dexamethasone for severe nausea due to chemo
Medicates currently taking:
6 months after initial diagnose, I am happy to report I am only taking 2 of the above, Famotidine and Citalopram. Both are to protect me from the effects of the chemo drugs and once my last treatment is over, I will stop those soon after. As you can see from the above list of 13, at least 4-5 are considered heavy narcotics that could lead to an addiction. This was of most concerning when it was getting towards the end of my hospital stay.
My process of stopping my medications:
During the last week of my stay at the hospital, I asked to be taken off the morphine injections in my IV. This resulted in a more frequent dosage of Oxycodone. The last three days of hospital stay I stopped taking the Oxycodone and may have only taken 1 over a 2 day period. Both of these resulted in some mild withdrawal symptoms such as chills, insomnia and sluggishness. Since I was in a hospital setting, this was closely monitored. I did have pain, but it was not as severe as it was earlier in the month. I was also shaking, but not sure if it was related to stopping the meds or the chemo.
Upon discharge I was still wearing the Fentanyl patch, replacing it every 72 hours. This patch has a very strong level of opioids such as in morphine or oxycodone, but it releases slowly in the body, in my case through the skin. I kept that patch on the longest, for about 2 months after discharge. My first attempt to stop it was unsuccessful. I had the dosage lowered to half and attempted it again. This time I was successful, but not without some rather severe side effects. I had night sweats, insomnia, irritation, nausea, headaches, dizziness and shaking a lot. I understood the side effects, and braced myself through it. This lasted about 3 days and eventually I was able to sleep again and the symptoms started to go away. All other medications I took as needed. By the 1st week of January 2015, I had stopped all the medications except the 2 I stated earlier.
I stopped the Lidocaine patch a week after my hospital release. I felt no withdrawal from it even though it is a narcotic. I was on the patch each night for 12 hours for about 5 weeks. Eventually I stopped it one night primarily because I had no one to place in on my lower back. I felt nothing the next day, so I stopped. This was purely by accident.
What did I do instead of taking Meds:
For pain, I started doing a lot of pressure points such as in the palm of my hand, bottom of my feet and ear lopes. I would either squeeze or massage those areas to redirect my pain. I also did daily meditation in the mornings and nights. I increase my exercise to walking several miles a day, dancing and light weights. These tend to distract me from the pain. I cannot honestly say I was not in pain, I was. Standing up took effort and still does, but a lot less than a few months ago. Waking up in the morning takes a ton more effort, but over time it got easier. Walking and working out helped tremendously as well and remaining positive and keeping away from situations that caused me pain or worry.
For constipation (you may know opioids or narcotics causes severe constipation) prunes and prune juice became my best friends! Along with high fiber fruits such as apples, pineapples, papaya, mangoes, etc. Drinking lots of liquid is a must! I learned a lot from my Oncologist and my health insurance coach on pain management. I also browsed the internet a lot. There is no one thing that works great I think, but rather a combination of a few things work well. Getting ideas from those who walked the journey before me is also a good resource.
For pain today, what do I do?:
First, I try home remedies and meditation first, then I try sleeping or going for a walk. Most times these work, however, there are times I am forced to take a pain medication. Since my release from the hospital on October 30, 2015, I took 3 oxycodone and 2 Lorazepam. This is over a 5 month period. I felt inclined to take them either because of a biopsy or right after a chemo treatment. My last one of these 2 were back in December 2015. So for approximately 3 months, I have been pain meds free!
How has this helped me?:
First, I am not walking around feeling like my head is clouded. I am not falling asleep all day and night. I can get back to basics like reading and having a coherent conversation. I had to do a lot of memory games such as playing cards, coloring books, and juggling 2 balls. Writing my blogs and reading helped the most. I did some basic math and statistic problem from a 9th grade book I had. All of these helped a lot. I adjusted my sleeping hours. I stopped sleeping during the day (this was hard) several months ago and going to bed around 10pm and up around 6am. Sleep helped me function better during the day. I also was given about 1,300 meditation songs on a USB which has helped in my meditation and falling asleep.
What have I learned and in summary?
I learned that if I do not push myself and force myself to improve my mental state, it only gets worse. I would have loved to stay in bed all day and not move, but I was afraid that would be where I would remain. I was not able to do this alone. I sought out the help of my Oncologist, family, friends and the internet. I continue to go 3 days a week to occupational therapy for the continued improvement of my left shoulder and arm. At times the pain is difficult, but I persevere through it and remember the saying..no pain, no gain. I cry when I need to and laugh just the same. I still feel broken at times, but that is just a feeling I know will change from time to time. I have come a long way and my journey made me a better person with more maturity and awareness. I have 1 chemo session left to be administered on March 18th. I am getting excited and bracing myself for that last punch. My next blog will focus on what is chemo and sharing what my 7 hour chemo day consists of. I will call it CHEMO 101. Until then, be good, be well and remain focused on your health and the health of those you love.