The universe acts in mysterious ways, they say. Sometimes we need just a little sprinkle of life to realize we’re only human.
So the universe sprinkled a little bit of a challenge into my life. About a month ago, I herniated a disc in my lower back. I actually became a potential back surgery candidate.
That’s the irony of the situation. I work with surgeons and patients during spinal surgery and suddenly the tables had turned. Instead of helping patients, now I am suddenly the patient in the surgeon’s office!
I have no idea when exactly I herniated the disc. There was no instant pain. One day I just woke up with numbness in my foot and excruciating pain when I bent over.
My 10 years of experience in spine surgeries told me that this was serious. The likelihood of a herniated disc in someone so young was rare, but completely possible.
But there was another voice in my head that was nagging me. That was the dreaded cancer voice. The feelings of anxiety and fear crept into me once again. I was overwhelmed with the possibility that the cancer had returned from the depths to take over my body.
I called my oncologist and he sent me for an MRI. There were only a few days between the beginning of my symptoms and my MRI, but it felt like an eternity. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess. (Not even a hot mess – just a flat out mess!!)
The MRI results were very clear that I had herniated a disc, which was pushing against one of my lumbar nerves. I was relieved that I ONLY had a herniated disc. Isn’t it funny how a little perspective changes things? I’d take a herniated disc any day of the week over my melanoma returning.
This one incident opened my whole view of the life I’m living. For one, it made me relive my fears and realize that I’m not out of the woods. Melanoma may still come back to get me. I firmly believe that we beat cancer when we overcome the fear of cancer. I clearly still have some work to do in that ‘fear’ category.
It also opened my eyes to what my patients are going through. The pain of that herniated disc was unbelievable. At points, all I could do was try to catch my breath and let the tears roll. It was pain with a capital “P”. I would do ANYTHING – and I mean A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G – to get a little relief.
I can now see how people get hooked on pain medication due to back pain. For a period, I was afraid to miss a dose because the pain would hit me like a freight train. I was watching the clock and as soon as I felt the tiniest twitch of pain, I’d be hunting down that little orange bottle.
But I forced myself to start weaning off the pain meds as soon as I could. I know the harm they can cause and how addictive they can be. According to some data, opioids can be addictive within just FIVE days. Not even a week and you can be hooked. It’s scary!
Even with all my knowledge on the subject, it took some serious willpower to ween off the pain meds. It’s not fun. But I made sure to ask my healthcare team for other nerve pain medications that weren’t opioids and I set daily goals for myself.
It all comes down to being in control of your own health. It’s a priority for me, and I had to make sure I was doing the right thing for my body in the long run. I refuse to be a victim of circumstance – I’d rather make lemonade out of these darn lemons. And I PLEAD with you all to discuss pain medication with your doctor before taking them. The more you know, the better.
So as of now, the plan is lots of physical therapy to regain the strength in my right leg. If I have progress over the next month, then I get to avoid surgery. I’ve seen surgery (hundreds of them, actually) and I’m doing everything in my power to avoid it.
To all those who are battling cancer or battling back problems, I’m there with you. In mind, body, and soul…I’m there with you.