Pins & Needles: The Path to Acupuncture
Last updated: July 2023
I wake up each day and I dread letting my feet hit the floor. It’s not that I don’t hear the birds chirping and think "wow what a beautiful day", that’s not it at all. I hear the birds, I feel the heater and I see the bright sun but the pain some days is unbearable. I hobble until I can get going. It’s just part of my morning, I have to get my body moving. It feels like I am walking on a mix of gravel and knives with every step, as I make my way to the bathroom, just to look at someone that doesn’t look like me. I couldn’t tell you when it started, it's been going on for so long and shows no signs of stopping. Some things make it better, others don’t help at all.
Trying new things is hard when you have found certain ways to work around your pain to get through the day. I manage the side effects of several medications on a daily basis. The list is lengthy, but what I am finding hard to deal with is a combination of neuropathy, joint pain, and general cancer pain. It’s interrupting my day and overall happiness.
One example, I can cook a meal, stand, and even dance around in the kitchen for an hour or so but as soon as I sit down to eat for even 15 minutes my body becomes stiff and starts to ache. With each step, I take I can feel the pins and needles spread across the soles of my feet and a jagged sharp pang making its way into my weak ankles. My feet turn into concrete blocks and my legs are so heavy the dishes will have to wait. How does this happen in 15 minutes? I was fine, and now I am not. Once again reminded of the lovely dark shadow in the corner, stage IV metastatic breast cancer. I just wanted to cook a meal, eat it, clean the kitchen and have a “normal” night, but that’s just it, nothing is normal anymore. Don’t even get me started on the random swelling. I ache, I certainly didn't ache like this before stage IV. With cancer treatment, there is always a price to pay for the outcome. As patients, we just don’t get to be a part of the negotiation process.
Let’s see, I’ve walked, done yoga, stretched, and then avoided those things when the recovery time in between was just too much. I realized how much of a problem this was becoming as I didn’t refill my water as much or literally move because my feet hurt so bad I would rather just stay where I was. Planted where I started for the day, letting everything go on around me. I don’t want to feel even worse while I have stage IV cancer, I want to find a solution even if it is temporary. I’ve tried massaging my feet with different creams, used a rocker board, I’ve seen a podiatrist, gotten a million shoes, and still no real relief. My oncologist sent me to physical therapy but it just didn’t pinpoint the underlying issues. We’ve done just about everything I can think of until my oncologist suggested giving acupuncture a try.
An electrical appointment
I arrived very open-minded to my first acupuncture appointment, as I was not sure what to expect! I was probably more nervous than excited since I have so many skin allergies, I didn’t want to find out this wouldn’t be an option for me. It was a very enlightening process. The acupuncturist asked what my 3 main complaints were in order of pain and disruption in my day:
- Right shoulder
After my shoes were removed, all areas of my skin were gently cleaned. It was cool but not shockingly cold. I was kept fairly distracted with the explanation and history of acupuncture and that really helped calm my nerves. I barely felt a thing until one magical needle sparked an internal electrical current. I have no idea how a tiny needle in my left ankle could make my right shoulder pain ease off. It is my understanding that it can take several treatments for continued relief.
I felt very comfortable, finally. Relief, even in temporary form, was exactly what I needed to exist at this moment. This appointment gave me hope. The chair leaned back and I had the view of Midtown Atlanta, while I learned to relax and let the treatment do its job. It was a crisp, beautiful, blue sky day with soft tunes playing in the background. Imagine a mix of upbeat but soothing music to put you into the perfect mood. I asked the acupuncturist about the playlist and I was on the right track, all 3,844 songs were hand-selected from his CD collection. I knew it was special. I glanced over to the wall to a bright green poster of Mahatma Gandhi with his profound quote “Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.” This ignited my spirit, and I knew I was on the right path.
This is just my experience but I will continue to explore this therapy in more depth. I am proud of myself for not giving up and trying something else after all this time. I will continue my sessions and see how my pain is managed.
Has anyone else tried acupuncture or complementary therapies to help with pain?
Advanced breast cancer is an isolating and lonely disease.