I Will Not Be Shamed for Using Opioids to Manage My Cancer Pain
by April Doyle
The pain starts in my sit bones, radiates into my pelvic area and moves up and down my spine. When I'm having a good day, my pain is a 5 or 6 out of 10 on the pain scale. Some days, my pain escalates to an 8 or 9 and I can't function. But when I take my opioids, the pain decreases. I can move again. I can breathe again. I can handle my full-time job. I can go to the park with my 8 year old son. I can manage my pain.
So when I went to the pharmacist in my hometown in California and the pharmacist again refused to fill my opioid prescription, I was frustrated and angry. Not only did he say that he couldn't fill my prescription, but he made me feel like I was doing something wrong by trying to get my pain pills. I was made to feel less than human.
In order to stay alive, in order to function, I need to take 20 pills a day, four of which are opioids. It's my only option. I have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer that is in my spine, my hips and my lungs. I don't even take as much as is prescribed to me. But when you have metastatic cancer in your bones, the pain is so severe that you can't even function.
It all started in 2009 at the age of 31 when I found a lump in my breast. Everyone kept saying to me, "I'm sure it's fine." But I instinctually knew something wasn't right. After nothing showed up on the mammogram, I decided to go in for a lumpectomy and have it biopsied. All the doctors were surprised when it came back as breast cancer, stage 1B. I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, 4 months of chemotherapy and then I was declared cancer free!
Fast forward 5 years: I had some back pain, which I thought was sciatica. I wasn't too concerned because otherwise, I felt great. I went into my oncologist for my 5-year check-up and he said, "Congrats! You are doing great!" But two days later, the nurse from the cancer center called and left me a voicemail saying, "Oops. We spoke too soon." I was now told I was stage 4 and the cancer had metastasized to my bones and lungs. I had terminal cancer.
Pain management is now a major facet of my cancer treatment. I have had steady treatment for the past 5 years and am now on my 5th line of treatment. I have exhausted all my anti-hormonal treatments and am currently getting chemotherapy intravenously. I've also had two different rounds of radiation to help with the pain. Along with antidepressants, anti-nausea drugs, nerve blockers, supplements, and over-the-counter pain relief pills, I now take an opioid.
My oncologist prescribes the opioid and the insurance company covers it without any issue. But I've had numerous negative experiences with this particular pharmacist. They have told me they don't have enough pills and they've told me to come back another day.
When my anger and frustration took over, I posted a video explaining what had happened. I had no idea that the video would strike such a nerve with a bigger population. But it did. Thousands of people reached out to me to share their experiences having trouble getting their prescriptions filled for much needed pain medications.
The anti-opioid movement has created difficulty for those of us who need opioids for pain relief. This is a problem that affects all sorts of people with many different chronic diseases. Although the pharmacy issued an apology to me, I have decided to go to a different pharmacy in my hometown and no longer give the other one my business. People with chronic pain want to be able to function, to sleep, to work, and to be able to have quality time with their families without hurting all the time. We have valid reasons for needing opioids and our stories need to be heard.