A few weeks ago, my friend JJ invited me to speak at an event for her chapter of the Junior League.
Now, if you didn’t grow up in Mississippi, this might be no big deal. But if you did, whoo-wee, this is the big time. I won’t go into all of the Junior League deb drama, but let’s just say it was important. I agreed, with some trepidation, but this was such a good cause that I couldn’t resist.
I wasn’t feeling particularly well at the time, but I figured it was weeks away, and surely, surely I would be better by then. And I was. I was gloriously without pain last week at this time, jaunting off to Texas for a professional meeting, ready to take on the world. And I did. I gave a talk at WD’s Early Career Workshop, and I held a meeting of 155 women planetary scientists, where I gave a pretty daring talk, if I do say so myself. Things were going great. And then things were going not so great. As you know, things kind of went to pot on Tuesday and I’ve been recovering ever since.
Both physical therapists were stunned by my condition. One checked my spine (not twisted) and then did myofascial release to soothe the flare up and relax the muscles. The other skipped the scar tissue work, instead working exclusively on the muscles between the spine and scapula, trying to loosen the tugging and relieve the pain. Both helped greatly, but it wasn’t enough.
My primary care doctor, late in the day on Thursday, diagnosed me with neuropathy, and sent me to a specialist to test the nerves to see which one was triggering these bizarre symptoms (incredible pain all over the upper part of my body, tingling skin, feeling of pins and needles sticking into my skin on both arms and back, tremors, chattering teeth). Once the specialist found the misfiring nerve, he said (by sticking a needle in the nerves, sending an electric shock down each, and testing to find which one reproduced the symptoms), he could kill the nerve entirely. This would relieve the pain.
Of course, my physical therapist explained later, it would also introduce new symptoms — numbness where the nerve was, and possible loss of motor control if the nerve happened to be one that controlled my extremeties. Nice.
But the pain. The pain must go away.
And so we wait. I have an appointment with the specialist early next week — which is wonderful — but still, it’s hard to wait patiently while your arms and back tingle, prickle, and at times are covered with a thick layer of pain oozing from the pores, originating (we think) from that spot in the back between the spine and scapula, which itself is screaming in anger at you.
I have new medicine, specifically for nerve pain, and I’m trying not to take the opiates, because they make me fuzzy, and I can’t write my book(s) while I’m fuzzy. Heck, I can’t even blog properly when I’m fuzzy. And I don’t like that at all. So I’ve started on a heavy-duty drug, neurontin (don’t say I never tell you anything!), and as it’s ramping up, it seems to be giving me some relief. I’m able to sit up again today, to type, to think, and that is a blessing. My hands are shaking, I have tremors, and the prickly feeling is still there, but the pain is not so overwhelming, all consuming as it was on Tuesday.
And last night, after several days of rest and physical therapy, I was able to go out and speak to the Junior League. I wasn’t steady enough to drive to Great Falls myself, but my wonderful husband and children drove me out there, dropped me off, and then went to play at the Chick-Fil-A playground .
It was an absolutely lovely evening. The women of the Junior League were warm and welcoming, and I very much enjoyed my conversations with them. The president did a wonderful welcome, the fundraising chair told those assembled (Junior Leaguers and friends) all about their signature project, the Children’s Science Center, and then they introduced their two Celebrity Scientists — and one was me! After my talk and the closing pitch (fascinating), I talked to a few people and then felt the tremors returning. Too much excitement, I guess, but the pain was back, and my arms were tingling, and I needed to lie down. I asked JJ to escort me to the door, and she did that graciously, steering us on a straight path. I thanked the hostesses, was pleased to learn about the benefit the owner of the house had held recently for pediatric cancer, and then saw the light of the minivan waiting for me outside.
I’ve never been so happy to see a minivan.
So yes. I used my spoons to talk to the Junior League last night, and it was a beautiful event.
I apologize for the medical information involved in this series of posts — I feel self-conscious about telling you all this, but I’ve heard from so many of you that it is useful, so I keep writing, in hope that my words will help someone else suffering from cancer and afterpain. I thought that I could stop after my treatment — but I now understand that the medical consequences and fallout don’t just go away when the cancer does.