When Disaster Strikes

Updated: Nov 23

Post #7 in the series "Reprocessing Chronic Pain"

I've made reference here to a family medical crisis that has been seriously challenging my efforts to rewire my brain and body away from chronic pain. We've decided to share the details. My husband has been diagnosed with throat cancer. Even as I type the words, it feels unreal. We've suddenly dropped into an alternate universe where nothing is the same and everything is new and scary. We don't have a complete diagnosis yet but the doctors are all telling us it's highly treatable. And that treatment will be long and difficult, with some real long-term risks. Our schedules have been upended by appointments, tests, and procedures. It's like being thrown suddenly onto a speeding train.

It just wouldn't make any sense to continue to chronicle my pain healing journey without sharing this. The central tool of Pain Reprocessing is developing and deepening a felt-sense of safety, even in the face of physical pain, challenging emotions, and ongoing life stressors. In the month before we realized something was going on with my husband, I made huge progress. I was hopeful, excited, optimistic, and full of passion for the immense promise of mind-body healing for chronic pain. I was reversing decades of living in a state of chronic fear. It was amazing.

Then this happened. I wondered if I would be able to stay on this healing path when faced with possibly the most terrifying experience of my life. So far the answer is yes and no. Yes, my overall pain level is significantly lower than it was 2 months ago. I am confident that will be sustained. And no: it's now a different path, more circuitous and with a steeper slope.

Here's how things have played out so far. My husband is an active, athletic, and very healthy man in his 50s. He hadn't been to a doctor in years. He's never had any kind of medical treatment other than some broken bones when he was a kid and a brief stint of severe back pain in his 40s. I was the one with the medical "stuff." He was the caregiver -especially in the years when I went through multiple surgeries and a long period of disability. He's my rock. Then he comes back from seeing a local family doctor for a sore throat with an ominous finding. The doctor had felt a hard mass in the glands on the left side of his neck. She ordered a CT scan and referred him to a local ear, nose, and throat specialist.

A close friend of ours had had throat cancer in 2019, and my husband was presenting with the same symptoms. Hoping for the best and fearing the worst, I called Penn Medicine on a Friday, and got him an appointment with a head and neck cancer surgeon the following Wednesday. I figured if it was nothing, that was great. But if it was something, I wanted him to be in the best possible hands right from the start. I've learned a lot in 30 years of being a patient, a health coach, and a health-care advocate. I knew that the word cancer carried a lot of weight. So I called 1-800-PENN-MED and said "my husband has a tumor in this throat. We need to see a specialist ASAP." And they got us in. We didn't pull any strings - I just called and said "tumor and cancer." They did the rest.