Pain management for patients

You saw your doctor and they told you breast cancer was the diagnosis… One million thoughts, movies and feelings rushed into your head; sickness, death, pain and who do I tell first?

With regards to pain, it is manageable with your healthcare team and family. That’s the good news! The bad news is there is sacrifices that needs to be made, however, it is still manageable.

Emotional pain

Depending on your stage of cancer and your emotional well being, get ready to shed a few tears. The Navy Seals have a saying, “Pain is weakness leaving the body, but having a good cry will generally decrease your stress followed by a good nap.”

Pain from drugs

There are many chemo drugs and each one has specific side effects. Adriamycin, Cyclophosphamide and Paclitaxel are just a few of the names you might hear. Just like some non-cancer drugs some patients have no side effects, including pain. In my many months at Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre and Helen Joseph Hospital, as well as other hospitals, I never came across a patient that was pain-free, but I have heard these miracle people do exist. Most medicines have such long names that the patients give them nicknames like, white chemo or red chemo.

The latter, red chemo, is Adriamycin or Doxorbion better known by the patients as the Red Devil drug. Known by the patient population to cause hair loss, nail loss, nerve pain and nausea, I guess it’s clear where the name orginates…

Pain from radiation

At a certain point in your therapy your doctor might suggest radiation. The treatment targets cancer cells to keep them from growing and dividing. Most patients have minor discomfort with nothing more than a sunburn. If the redness worsens or spreads past the treatment area, it’s very important to tell your oncologist.

Pain from surgery

When the lymph nodes or breast tissue is removed some patients experience nerve pain or damage and swelling of the affected area. Lymphedema, which is the swelling of the arm, chest or hand after the surgery, can also occur. Most pain can be controlled with pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs from your doctor.

Where do we go from here?

The choice is in your hands! 

You might realise that you have chosen an excellent healthcare team and their goal is to heal you. Your doctor’s creed is Do No Harm. The choices of therapy have been explained to you and you understand them. Pain is one of the side effects and your multidisciplinary team can help you manage it.


Throughout history we have been our own worst enemy. Circa 195 BC Plautus wrote:

HOMO HOMINI LUPUS   – man is a wolf to man. So, we are not going to be our own worst enemy. When we get sicker, we tell our doctor! When we are in more pain, we tell our doctor! When we are feeling better, we tell our doctor!

Your oncologist and surgeons have a trainload of skills and medications to treat your condition, so jump aboard that train to wellness and hug your doctor today, because you are on the fast train to recovery!


Dr Doug Potter is a doctor of Naturopathy and has a PHD in Behavioral Science. He is the team leader for first Fatigue Centre in Africa. Increased production at last site - 35,7%. Goal - to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.

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