Wednesday, February 27th was the first day since December 2011 that I passed the entire day without bladder pain. That’s right, my previous record of painlessness was about eight hours and it was in spring of 2012. The pain-free experience ended and the pain has already returned, but the experience has given me cause to celebrate. There is no treatment that has been offered at Stroger Hospital that would cure radiation cystitis. My friend Mary discovered that time spent in a hyperbaric chamber could help, but there is no such chamber where I receive treatments, my doctors are skeptical of the utility of such treatments, and I have not sought treatment at a nearby clinic that sells 1 hour stints in its hyperbaric chamber to people wishing to be more fully oxygenated.
I have been taking a drug that reduces spasming of my bladder. It has successfully managed the other side-effect of cystitis–incontinence. Of course, the medication has its side-effects. I continue to be covered with pinpoint-sized red dots on my lower extremities. That has been happening since the start of the year. The dermatologists at the hospital are not certain whether this is a side-effect of the medication I take or is the rest of a new, nuisance-level immune disorder. I already had decided to put up with the splotches of red rather than discontinue taking the drug that might be causing the condition.
There are many things in life that prove to be acceptable when the alternative is worse. For me, the pain I have been experiencing–like the red spots sprinkled over my legs–has been part of the price I pay for wanting to do all I can to prevent the return of cancer.
The pain has been wearing at me. Some days it has reduced me to tears. Some days it has continued for hours rather than ending when I have emptied my bladder. Every day it has been something I anticipated, feared, or tolerated. To have had an entire day without it was most excellent.
If you know what it is like to have pain (physical or emotional) every day then I pray this morning that you also will have such a day. Already it is giving me renewed hope. Hope is more intoxicating even than depression. It is like the first pings of popcorn in a covered pan. It is like the pop of a cork from a bottle of something bubbly. It is like the warmth of the sun when it comes out from behind a cloud on an overcast day. It is like the smile of a friend you have not seen in a long time. It is like a memory of a happy time that pops into your mind in the moment before you wake up. It is so wonderful that you question whether it happened at all because it is tough (but not impossible) to sustain the feeling when pain returns. It makes up for quite a bit to have such an experience.
I am using that sense of optimism to hope and pray that this will be the first of many pain-free days for me and for all of you have pondered the opening words of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence: “Hello, darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.” It may build character to face pain without rancor, but it is a far more wonderful thing to not face it at all.