Besides fear of death, the main fears and problems facing people with cancer are the fear of pain and the fear of social isolation. The latter often occurs because people are afraid to talk about death and dying, and therefore have trouble being present with those with cancer. Because of this, I encourage you to let those you know with cancer talk about their feelings, fears, concerns, and hopes. It is not as necessary to offer them hope and reasons for optimism (though these can be helpful after they've shared their feelings) as it is to let them express how they feel and know they've been heard. A simple hug after hearing them out (or even crying with them) can be very healing and set the stage for healing.
I personally believe that death here is simply a rebirth elsewhere (whether one chooses to call it heaven or another name) and is not the enemy—simply a transition to be made when the time is right. For those who hold this belief and a belief in God, talking about this can also be healing. For those who do not believe in an afterlife, a key is letting the person know how they have positively impacted your life, that they are loved, and that they will be remembered lovingly—while giving both the person and the listener the chance to share whatever feelings are present (even if this means "clearing the air"). In this way, they know they will live on in the memories of those who love them. Either way, let them know they will not be alone, and that you will be their advocate to be sure they stay pain free. At the same time, take care of yourself as well (see "Caring for the Caregiver in Chronic Illness").
Let me make a simple statement. It is never acceptable for cancer patients to be in ongoing pain, and the therapies discussed in this article and my book Pain Free 1-2-3 can be very helpful in eliminating cancer pain.
Most pain is coming from tissue invasion or muscle spasm. Address these pains with the "SHINE Protocol" and as discussed elsewhere in the "Pain Free 1-2-3" book. In addition, nutritional deficiencies are rampant in cancer patients and can contribute markedly to the pain and disability. I strongly recommend that most cancer patients take a good multivitamin powder (one can lower the dose if diarrhea is present). As an aside, there are many therapies that can help cancer that your oncologist may not be aware of (usually because they are too inexpensive). I recommend that any patient with a significant cancer order a search of medical studies done on their specific type and stage of cancer from Health Resources. They do a spectacular job (call Jan Guthrie at 800-949-0090 for more information). This report routinely turns up valuable therapy options that most doctors are not aware of. I have seen "incurable cancers" go away when the patient combines the best of the standard and complementary therapies that are found in the printout's studies. As an example, using the information in one of their reports, my research associate has now been cancer-free for over 9 years despite having had an ovarian cancer metastatic to her neck! The report will be a collection of medical studies, so it may be somewhat technical. For help with it, I recommend consulting by phone with Rev. Bren Jacobson (very reasonably priced at $95/hour. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His phone numbers are 443-949-0409 or 410-224-4877. He is often traveling, so e-mail if he does not return your call). Though not a physician, he is extraordinarily knowledgeable, and helps people figure out how to get the best therapy possible using a mix of natural and prescription therapies. As a consultant and guide, I've seen him help those whose doctors had written them off as hopeless.
Here are a few additional thoughts for addressing cancer discomfort:
- For uncontrollable nausea, use ABHR cream applied to an area of soft skin, such as the wrist. This prescription cream contains lorazepam, Benadryl®, Haldol®, and metoclopramide, and can be made by compounding pharmacists (e.g., Cape Pharmacy—who can also guide you in its proper use. 410-757-3522. Your physician can call in the prescription and they can mail it to you). Nausea often settles within 15 to 30 minutes after applying the medication. The cream can be reapplied every 6 hours as needed. Promethazine® 25 mg per 1/2 cc of cream is also helpful for nausea.
- In addition to causing severe pain, cancer that has spread to bone to can also make the bones weak and susceptible to fracture. Because of this, therapies that improve bone density such as strontium and other nutrients in a supplement that supports healthy bones (see information on osteoporosis) may decrease bone pain as well. In one study of patients with bone metastases from breast or prostate cancer, strontium gluconate (the healthy form—not the radioactive one), 274 mg daily, increased bone re-growth in areas of tumor, and often resulted in patients feeling better and gaining weight.5 I would use the 680 mg a day dose discussed in the osteoporosis article.
- Cancer often triggers muscle/myofascial pain, and addressing this (see chapter in Pain Free 1-2-3 on fibromyalgia/myofascial pain) can result in more comfort and the patient needing less pain medicine and therefore having fewer side effects. In addition, a study by Dr. Neoh Choo Aun, a wonderful acupuncturist and friend in Taiwan, showed that using acupuncture to address the trigger points in cancer patients was very beneficial.6
- In one study of 12 patients with very severe neuropathic, or nerve pain, due to the cancer pushing on major nerve centers, IV magnesium was given. Half the patients received 500 mg and the other half 1000 mg given over 10 minutes. Aside from producing a mild feeling of warmth at the time of the injection, the IV was well-tolerated. 10 of the 12 patients experienced significant relief that lasted approximately four hours.7 I would give 2 grams of magnesium over 30-60 minutes. Most patients with neuropathic pain will not need this—although it can easily be given if they have an IV in place—if they simply use the medications we discuss in Pain Free 1-2-3 for addressing neuropathies.
- It takes much less medication to prevent pain than to make it go away once it occurs. Because of this, if you have chronic pain, take the medication before you expect the pain to occur, or at the first sign of it coming back, instead of waiting for it to be severe. You'll need less pain medicine and have fewer side effects. If narcotic side effects are problematic, ask your doctor to use the other pain medications we discuss in the book as well so you can find a combination that is more comfortable. In addition, the book chapter on prescription therapies discusses how to address many narcotic side effects. Using Fentanyl® patches can be very helpful because they give steady release of pain medication over 3 days, are powerful, and can be taken even if nausea or confusion is present.
- If you have breast cancer, do not use DHEA, estrogen, or progesterone without your doctor's approval.
It is important to know that almost all pain, including and especially cancer pain, can be effectively addressed. The problem is that the only thing that many doctors know (including all too many oncologists) is to use Tylenol or Motrin related medications (called NSAIDs) and if this is not adequate, consider narcotics. That this is all they are trained in is, sadly, pathetic. The good news is that there are dozens of other highly effective natural and prescription therapies that you can use on your own or bring up with your physician. These can be seen in the Pain Free 1-2-3 book.
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.