Physical pain is one of the realities that sometimes comes with cancer. It may be pain caused by surgery, or pain caused by pressure from a tumor, or pain that is the result of the effects of treatment. For some of us, the experience of pain is short lived. For some it comes and goes on a regular basis. And for others it is always there.
Pain disrupts our sleep, our appetite, our mood, our ability to work or concentrate, our sociability and sometimes even our hope.
Pain wears us out. It is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting to live with pain. Our muscles tighten to protect the area that is hurting and our entire body is signaled to go into a state of alert. Our minds race through questions about what is causing the pain and how long it will last. And our hearts are overwhelmed with the emotions of fear and depression.
Pain also effects us socially. It makes us irritable. We do not have the energy or perspective to be patient with noise or demands or other people’s needs. We may find ourselves snapping at the people we love or withdrawing to be alone.
Learning to live with pain is an important task. We need, first of all, to acknowledge its presence and the toll it is taking on us personally. Take an inventory. What pain do you experience? When? How often? How does it effect your sleep? Appetite? Perspective? Emotions?
Second, we need to let others know that we are in pain so they will understand what we are experiencing; so they can support us and pray for us; and so they can help us decide if and when we should inform our physician.
Third, we need to get extra rest. Pain wears us out. And fatigue will usually increase our pain and decrease our ability to tolerate it. It can become a vicious cycle of over-doing, having increased pain as a result, becoming worn out from the added pain and as a result of our fatigue, experiencing even more pain.
Fourth, we can learn the value of distractions. A good book, a conversation with a friend, an enjoyable activity that is not strenuous can all help us to be distracted from our pain. This is especially helpful once we know the pain is not a signal that we need additional medical care, and if the pain is chronic.
Fifth, we can learn how to relax. Our muscles tighten and we become anxious when we experience pain. This only serves to increase our pain. We can learn to relax our muscles and decrease our anxiety in order to decrease our pain. Listening to relaxing music, taking slow deep breaths for several minutes, and practicing relaxation exercises can all be helpful in learning to relax even when we are experiencing pain.
Finally, we can allow our pain to bring us back into God’s presence. We can ask God to heal our pain, to comfort us and to give us new strength and hope.
Questions for Discussion – Session 1
In my distress I called to the Lord,
I cried to my God for help.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me.
He drew me out of deep waters.
Ps 18:6 & 16
1. When have you experienced pain?
2. What is your reaction to pain (what thoughts, feelings, and behaviors does pain bring)?
3. What helps you to cope with pain?
Exercise for Discussion – Session 2
One way of coping with pain is to practice relaxing. Ask a group member to read the following aloud for the group in a slow and soothing voice, while the group follows the instructions. It will take at least ten minutes to read. Pause between each sentence.
Ask people to discuss their response to this exercise when it is finished.
“One way to cope with pain and stress is to practice relaxation. So, tonight, I am going to lead you in a relaxation exercise. I am going to take you on an imaginary trip to the beach.
To do this exercise in relaxing, I want you to get in a comfortable position. For most people that means sitting with your feet flat on the floor with your hands in your lap. And either close your eyes, or look down at a fixed spot on the floor in front of you. The first thing I am going to ask you to do is to take a deep breath. When you take this breath, I want you to breathe in slowly through your nose, filling your lungs so that your belly rises, holding the air, and then slowly letting it go through your mouth. So let’s do that together. Breathing in slowly, filling your lungs, letting your belly rise, holding it and slowly letting it out through your mouth. I want you to continue taking slow deep breaths, at a rate that is comfortable to you. As you breathe slowly and comfortably, I want you to let your body get heavy. Let your neck and shoulders get heavy. Let your arms get heavy. Let your legs get heavy. Be aware of your body as you sit in the chair. Continue to let your body get heavy. (Silence for 20 seconds.)
Now I want you to make a fist of your right hand. Make a tight fist. And hold it in a fist. Let all of the tension in your body go into that fist. Feel the discomfort in your fist. Hold it tight. Now let it go. Feel the warmth and tingling. Feel the difference between your hands. Now I want you to make fists of both your hands. Hold those fists. Let all the tension in your body go into your fists. Hold them tight. Now let them go.
Continue to breath slowly and comfortably. Continue to let your body get heavy. Continue to relax as you listen to the sound of my voice. You are going to take a brief imaginary trip to the ocean. I want you to see yourself standing at the top of a flight of ten stairs. At the bottom of the stairs is a door. You are going to go down the stairs and through the door to the beach as you follow my voice. Step down to step one. And two. And three. And four. And five. And six. And seven, eight and nine and ten. You are now at the door. Open it and go through.
Before you is a deserted beach. You can see sand stretched out before you. You can see the water beyond the sand. You can see the blue sky. You can hear the waves. And the sea gulls calling. Walk towards the water. You can sit or stand in front of the waves. Feel how peaceful it is here. Feel how relaxed you are. (Silence for 20 seconds). Think about what matters most to you in life. (Silence for 20 seconds.) You can see Jesus coming towards you along the beach. Let him come to you and greet you. Feel his love for you. See his joy in seeing you. Talk to him. You can tell him anything you want. (Silence for 30 seconds.) Enjoy being with him there at the water. (Silence for 30 seconds.)
You are going to go back to the door in a moment. But realize that you can come back here anytime. Realize how relaxed you are and that you will stay this relaxed as you go back up the stairs. Realize that Jesus will be coming with you.
Turn now and walk back to the door. When you get there look back at the sand and water and sky. Now open the door and go through with Jesus by your side. And go back up the stairs, following my voice. Step one and two. Step three. Step four and five. Step six. Step seven, eight, nine. And step ten. Take a deep cleansing breath. Hold it. Let it out through your mouth. And open your eyes when you are ready.