Living with and beyond cancer


Most people living beyond cancer do not experience long term pain. However some people do and this is either due to direct damage to tissues or structural changes caused by surgery, scar tissue from radiotherapy which may stop organs functioning properly, or direct damage to nerves by chemotherapy causing neuralgia pain. Beverley (Interview 10), who had breast cancer eight years ago, was left with daily pain which her doctors have told her is due to scar tissue from her mastectomy.  Another woman who'd had cervical cancer was told that her right hip gets painful because her radiotherapy treatment has ‘frazzled it like a chicken’. A few people had pain due to nerve damage, such as this man who six years after treatment for colorectal cancer takes pain relief medication and finds that the best relief comes from resting. 
Pain was a worry for some people who thought that it was a signal that their cancer was back. This woman, who experiences episodes of extreme pain due to scarring and adhesions (fibrous bands of scar tissue that form between internal structures joining them together) from surgery for colorectal cancer, described how she had been worried her cancer had returned. 
Long-term pain had different effects on people’s lives. One woman still couldn’t lift heavy things due to weakness from surgery to remove a lymphoma. Beverley had found it difficult being at work due to her pain and feeling ‘dopey’ as a result of the strong painkillers she needed to take. One woman living past cervical cancer had to adjust her working life in order to manage her pain; she found that it was too difficult for her to travel to work and work full-time in an office, so instead she set up a home office. 
People took a variety of different approaches to managing their pain, including conventional pain killing medicines, complementary therapies, and learning to live with pain that could not be lessened. One woman found that using complementary therapies like reiki, and activities such as yoga and meditation, helped her. She had been experiencing ongoing pain after a hysterectomy to treat her cervical cancer, and also tried a TENS unit. Psychological counselling helped one person living past testicular cancer with pain management. He felt that talking to someone helped him understand and deal with how his body experienced pain. People with pain often took painkillers on a long-term basis. For instance, a woman living past ovarian cancer used fentanyl painkilling patches which she felt ‘kept her pain very well under control’. 
For more information about living with pain, see our chronic pain section.  

Last reviewed October 2018.
Last updated August 2015.

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