Stiff, Sore, Sanguine and the Six Million Dollar Man

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Not so long ago the oncologist told me the issues with my knee and ankle joints (swelling, pain, unpredictable weakness, immobility) were most likely permanent. For many people joint problems during or after Herceptin treatment aren’t an issue. I was unlucky. Unknowingly susceptible to one of the infrequent side-effects and despite a ‘treatment holiday’ at infusion six, my joints never regained their pre-Herceptin condition.

Twelve months down the line there was very little improvement so it seemed painkillers would be a regular feature and thoughts of becoming an Olympic athlete would have to be abandoned… Truth be told I never planned on being an Olympian or any other kind of athlete but after enduring an aggressive suite of cancer treatments I hadn’t planned on being fettered by my own limbs either. The thought of indefinite consumption of heavy duty painkillers rested heavily in the place between conscious awareness and mind over matter. I’ve wrestled with this issue more often than I care to admit. The oncologist advised go easy on the joints because there are no real solutions. He’s incredibly well-researched and I can’t fault the care he provided during my time in treatment.

Reluctantly I accepted ‘recovery’ as a multifarious term extending well beyond the bounds of cancer itself and somewhere in the distant past I remembered watching the ‘Six Million Dollar Man.’ I recall very little about the TV show except the opening credits. The strangest things are lodged in my childhood memories and I hear the faceless male voice saying something along the lines of “we can rebuild him, better than before…. Better, stronger, faster…”. I think $6m man was some kind of cyborg and strictly speaking I’m not so far away from that myself. As a partially synthetic pig/silicon/human hybrid I’m a long way from better, stronger or faster but I refuse to relinquish the “we can rebuild” part.

Of course rebuilding takes time and effort and is not without pain. I mind over mattered my way much further along the Tarka Trail than I intended and as expected there are consequences for such stubborn behaviour. The Tarka Trail is a traffic-free footpath and cycle track running well over 100 miles through beautiful North Devon. My journey was very modest compared to the total length of the trail but it’s the longest cycle ride I’ve been able to entertain in the last few years and I’m incredibly stiff and sore! My legs still work in a fashion and I’ve burnt more calories than I’ve eaten – two welcome benefits of the day’s excursion. More importantly my “we can rebuild” or to be more accurate, “I will rebuild myself no matter what” philosophy will, I am sure, pay off. I have no illusions about being better, faster or stronger than before – as good as I was will do just fine. Tomorrow I might find I’m completely immobile as well as stiff and sore. Yet I’m also feeling rather sanguine. I put myself to the test and nothing really awful happened. The unintended consequences of cancer treatment cannot defeat me.

It may not seem like much but that one piece of knowledge is worth far more to me than a six million dollar rebuild πŸ™‚

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10 thoughts on “Stiff, Sore, Sanguine and the Six Million Dollar Man

    • It’s definitely new. I think I’ve gone past the concept of normal, it just is and these days I find ‘is’ is enough, I’m grateful for what I can do, the time I have and the beauty I fund in the world around me.

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  1. dear Tracy,

    I am sorry for the pain and annoyance of wonky joints you have experienced. but I am completely aligning with your intention to rebuild yourself, no matter what. I will be BELIEVING in your determination! from my own experience I have found that keeping well hydrated, soaking in a soothing Epsom salt bath after a work out, and NSAIDs (taken with a bit of food) prior to the most rigorous activity has resulted in a lot more mobility and comfort. and I really think that some SE’s thought to be permanent greatly varies in individuals – especially because the neuropathy in my feet was deemed “permanent” but completely resolved after 6 months!

    i am so happy for you to have taken on such an encouraging and “can do” outlook, and to have had the satisfaction of being able to challenge yourself on the Tarka Trail – YAY YOU!!!

    much love,

    Karen xoxoo

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    • I resorted to the NSAID’s Karen. I think it’s easier to keep the pain in check than let it start raging out of control and without them I think it was heading that way. Today things are much better and in still glad I did it… Sometimes we have to push those boundaries and see what happens πŸ™‚ It’s good to know your neuropathy subsided. There is still so much to be understood about the implications of cancer treatment and all I can say is thank goodness other patients are willing to share their stories because without that we’d all think we were going mad or imagining our symptoms. Sending you much love and support, as always your encouragement is such a gift. Xoxoxox

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  2. I love that banner photo. It looks remarkably like my home. Hmmmm small wonder, then, that so many Newfoundlanders descend from that place. Home away from home. Our accent is a mix of Devon and Waterford (true–it is possible).
    Coincidentally as I type this my tennis elbow is acting up quite a bit, and giving something of a small reminder of what it’s like for you. All I can say is to keep on doing what you are doing. Clearly, from the picture, the journey, difficult as it may be, is still a wondrous one.

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    • I’ve never visited Newfoundland but whenever I see your photos of home it makes me think of the Highlands, especially the western coast. A mix of Devon and Waterford is unique… Being from the South West originally I have the expected accent with strong r’s and hard a’s but can pass for anywhere from Cornwall to Shropshire πŸ™‚ I’d happily be a crofter in the Highlands if my need for good medics close at hand was not so great …3 more years to go on that front. Tennis elbow can be miserable, sometimes NSAIDs help and sometimes they don’t. Today I’ve had them because controlling the pain before it really gets going seems to lessen its impact and I have more adventures planned for the rest of the week. Other than joints I am in pretty good shape, no spring chicken of course but certainly feeling much, much better than during treatment πŸ™‚

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  3. Hi Tracy,

    Although the persistence of your side-effects is quite unfortunate, it is great to read that you are even more persistent!

    The Tarka Trail looks great on the link you provided… Maybe next time you’ll post a picture? πŸ™‚

    By the way… Do you know exactly how “infrequent” your Herceptin side-effect is?

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    • When I master photography on the fly I’ll post up some photos πŸ™‚ At the moment I have to set my pace and stick with it otherwise my knees become particularly uncooperative. I think joint pain can be reasonably common with Herceptin, especially when combined with a Taxane chemo regime. I’m led to believe it’s very unusual for joint problems to persist beyond the end of treatment. My Oncologist is only aware of one other lady in our part of the country who’d been affected in a similar manner and the cancer services here treat around 5000 people per annum. As Herceptin is still a relatively new drug I expect it’s possible that we’re discovering more of its medium and long term side effects.

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