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Learning to live with chronic pain

It’s 7:30am as my iPhone’s alarm welcomes me to a new day.

Who am I kidding?

The cats are already there, serenading me with whatever song informs me that they can see the bottom of their food dish. Kibbles, of course, line the sides of their dish. Enough food for another full day, yet slightly out of position and cause for concern.

The loudest culprit, Frankie, is a fairly reliable source of wakefulness most days.

Reaching toward the phone on my bedside table—a halfhearted effort to silence my alarm before it riles the cats further—I am reminded that today will be another spent in pain and discomfort.

My first movement of the day is a warning as pain shoots through my back and ribs: DO NOT OVEREXTEND.

It’s one thing to know that cancer can cause pain.

It’s yet another to experience it.

This was not on my cancer bingo card.

Some new information

Since I last wrote on my cancerous spinal lesions, the number has increased from two to three. Not new, simply newly noticed.

By now, you know that each scan yields new results. Each report offers opinion and expertise, issued as both information and judgement, somehow informing and sentencing in the same clinically transcribed paragraph.

One of my radiologists went back through all of my imaging since May to review anything that might’ve been picked up incidentally before we began directing our attention to my spine.

Seek and ye shall find: one more area of concern.

Fun fact: between May and the time of writing this, I’ve had five CT scans, five MRIs, and an ultrasound.

It’s hugely comforting to know that so many experts are looking over my case. Identifying a third lesion means that we can target it with radiotherapy when I begin this coming week.

I have a bone scan coming up on Friday to look at the rest of my skeleton. With any luck, the rest of Mr. Skeltal is behaving.

On back pain

I recently learned that each vertebrae has a 1:1 relationship with each rib. Twelve vertebrae. Twelve ribs.

I’d presented at the emergency room in August because I had radiating pain from my back into the lower part of my ribs.

I couldn’t catch a full breath. It hurt. Badly.

Of course, the ER thought I was constipated, so there’s that.

Would be pretty awesome if I could just shit the pain away, to be honest.

But since speaking to my radiologist, she’s certain that the pain in my ribs is directly correlated to the compression fractures in my spine.

As stupid as this probably sounds: it’s a comfort to know that. At the very least, it’s an explanation that placates my fears.

The daily impact

I like my homemade graphics, so hopefully this helps.

Without exaggeration, each of those points is the nexus of excruciating pain. How much, when, and where really depends on my positioning and movement.

Here are some things that piss me off about it:

  • I can’t get groceries. Lifting the baskets and various items hurts.
  • I can’t do laundry. You try lugging a laundry basket up and down the stairs with a busted back.
  • I can’t comfortably drive. You do a surprising amount of twisting and turning. If you do your shoulder checks, anyways. Do your shoulder checks.
  • I can’t sleep properly. I’m usually a side sleeper. Not right now, though.
  • I can’t sit comfortably. All the lumbar support in the world can’t fix my current problems.
  • I can’t do the things I’m used to. For now, anyways, everything I do each day is coloured by the unavoidable pain and discomfort.

I do have some medication for pain management, but this is a resistant kind of pain. Radiation should help, but things will get worse before they get better.

It’s going to be a long six weeks waiting for respite.

Nowadays, I’m walking around with a cane.

I find the leverage helps for standing up and sitting down, plus it gives me something to lean on if I have to stand for awhile.

It takes the pressure off, a smidge.

The downside, of course, is that I have a visible component to my illness. It’s something that I’m not used to.

“Did you hurt yourself?,” comes the innocent question.

“No. I have cancer. My spine is broken in a few spots,” comes the response.

Did I overshare? No. This is a point of education.

Young people can get cancer, too.

The weirdest part is trying to explain how I have colon cancer in my spine.

Go on, git!

I have a favour to ask.

If you’re up to it and able, take some time to get out of the house with someone in your life.

Get caught up.

Grab a coffee.

Go eat lunch.

Give yourself a hangover with fishbowl sized margaritas on your favourite patio.

Take an opportunity to leave the four walls and enjoy yourself, whatever that looks like for you.

Thanks for reading.


My name is Jason Manuge. I'm an early onset Stage IV colorectal cancer survivor. You can find me on social as CancerCanuck!

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