Acupuncture After Cancer Treatment
Acupuncture wasn’t something I EVER wanted to try in my life.
Why would anyone want to voluntarily stick needles in their body? And leave them in??
Apparently, it’s supposed to help with pain.
Well, it would have to be the VERY last resort for me to do that. I’d end up looking like this!
But those who’d had it done in the past, raved about it.
‘Oh it’s fiiiiiiiiiiine! They’re tiny needles, you can’t feel them! And they’ve done WONDERS for my hip/knee/hand/haemorrhoids’. OK, maybe not the latter one there.
But I was never convinced and popped another painkiller.
Then this whole Breast Cancer thing appeared.
The hospital gave lots of information about complimentary therapy after all the Surgery, Chemo and Radiotherapy had finished. Some that took place at the hospital and some outside of the unit, at a small number of support centres.
But I was fine (so I thought) so I didn’t bother. After all I was going to get back to normal, just like before, and I didn’t need any additional therapy – I’ll leave it for those who really need it…
Jump forward 6 months. I was 3 months into a course of treatment for Lymphoedema, as – since the two Wide Local Excisions a year before to remove the tumour – I’d been left with pain and a swollen area round the side of me going across into my back. I couldn’t lay on that side at night, so had to alternate between other positions.
Back and forth, back and forth, couldn’t get comfy, huffing and puffing, sighing loudly, sheet screwed up, duvet pulled all over the place. Lack of sleep for a year, and my husband ended up on the sofa. Again.
The hospital was quite certain it was nerve damage from the operation, but the lymph fluid wasn’t draining away from that area and making the pain worse, so the Lymph Clinic started to focus on getting that draining properly.
After almost a year of treatment, the lymph fluid was draining away and not refilling and it was more comfortable. But I still had this pain.
The doctor upped the painkillers. That helped me sleep better but didn’t stop the pain. During the day it was still uncomfortable too and I would often sit at work with my old faithful heart-shaped cushion under my arm, as I sat at the Computer. At night I was still moving about every half hour.
Facing the Fear
During that year of willing the pain to do one, I was also visiting Wessex Cancer Trust, Bournemouth Support Centre, every other week. I was seeing a counsellor; I sat and chatted to people in the same position as me, and to those who were dealing with different stages of Cancer affecting their lives.
Some I met as I sat there drinking my coffee, arrived for their Acupuncture appointment. I shivered as I thought of it. And every time they came out of the room, they all said the same thing.
“That feels so much better, that pain has eased a lot!”.
“I’m so relaxed now, I could’ve stayed there all day”.
I was beginning to rethink about this.
The Volunteers all chatted with me over the weeks to come and said that I could try it, there was quite a wait though so best get me on the list if I DID want to give it a go.
‘Oh – why not – Sod it! It’s got to the point I have to get a grip and just do it!! Anything to improve this pain’.
So – Did I?
I put my name down and thought I’d got a couple of months to talk myself out of it. Nope! There was a cancellation. Thanks then.
I sound ungrateful there. It was just the fear talking. I met with the Therapist a week before to have a chat with her and we went through everything I’d experienced, all my medical history going back years. She was thorough. And I felt at ease with her straight away. She showed me the type of needle they use and explained how they work. I was sceptical but HAD to give it a go.
Well of course I couldn’t have been more neurotic.
Due to the nature of my pain, mixed in with anxiety, and diet and exercise taken into account, my Therapist decided to treat a number of things and started putting her skills into practice.
The good thing was that she was explaining everything as she went along and I found this really helpful. She explained how placing needles at certain acupuncture points on the body, can help so many things. She also said that I would feel it a little as she tapped each needle in and sometimes a shooting pain that lasts a second as she finds the acupuncture spot.
On that first visit I had 9 needles. Not 90. Just 9. And yes – it was a little uncomfortable for a few seconds on a couple of needles, but once they were in, I couldn’t feel them. I laid there totally relaxed and could have stayed there all morning.
Yes, that’s right, I was repeating what others had said to me.
The therapist explained that I could feel tired that evening, and that she had ‘cleared the channels’ around the body.
I went on home having booked myself in for the following week (really? Yep), and hoped that I’d feel the difference in my side pain, but that may take a few days.
That evening I was I bed by 7.30 pm. Unheard of. I was exhausted. Couldn’t keep my eyes open. And without being too descriptive, ‘clearing the channels’ certainly happened!! I will leave that there…
I didn’t see an instant change in my nerve damage pain, so was a little disappointed about that at the time. However, I hadn’t felt that relaxed or as energised the next day, since Cancer was diagnosed.
As the 6-week course continued, we tried various acupuncture points and focused on a few different ailments depending on the week. Unfortunately, because I’d had lymph node clearance, I couldn’t have any needles in that arm, hand or around the swelling site. I checked with the Breast Care Team and my Lymphoedema nurse and they all advised on that.
So, the Therapist used other positions to help me. This treatment has been around since ancient times, and I was fascinated hearing where treats what.
Definitely slept better during that 6-week period, although the evening of the treatment I was in bed extremely early. I had an upset stomach each time too. But that didn’t last very long. Suffering from IBS is a contributing factor there. I did find during the day the pain in the side wasn’t as noticeable.
Whether that was solely down to Acupuncture I cannot be certain due to a change in medication however the other benefits like more energy, less stress in the few days following and generally feeling upbeat, I think was definitely down to it.
So – my tip is – don’t be a chicken like me, don’t put it off – needles are NOT like the ones you have during a blood test, they’re tiny. Go for it. It definitely has its benefits!