If I Had Cancer

By Vikki Towsey, Guest Columnist

I am not a junkie. I am not a pill seeker. I am not a doctor shopper. I am a chronic pain patient. I am a mother, a wife and a friend. I am a social worker. I work with offenders being released from prison who have HIV or AIDS. I am their advocate. I help navigate the healthcare system for my clients.

I find it odd that for my own healthcare needs I am often left on my own to mediate between my three treating physicians. No one advocates for me or helps me navigate through the labyrinth-like healthcare system. My doctors do not communicate nor do they collaborate with each other to make sure I am provided the best care possible.

I have Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a chronic autoimmune disorder that has wreaked havoc on my body. I went undiagnosed for 20 years, but it was not from a lack of trying to find answers to the severe back and hip pain that left me bedridden for months on end.

To say I have suffered is an understatement. My children suffer, my husband suffers, and my career suffers. This is largely due to the belief within the medical community that women do not contract AS or they have no idea what AS is.

My diagnosis came too late to prevent the damage done to my joints, which is not repairable. Ankylosing Spondylitis has also increased my chances of early mortality.

The treatment prescribed doesn't work well. I am on a biologic, sulfasalazine, and a commonly prescribed NSAID. While inflammation has decreased due to the joint damage, my pain is still severe. It disrupts my life and causes widespread fatigue.



People with disorders like mine are often fighting not only our conditions but a system that has become adversarial for many of us. Our pain has become a scarlet letter that identifies us as junkies, pill seekers, and criminals.  The CDC's proposed opioid guidelines will ensure that this continues. We are imprisoned by our suffering and endure a sentence of constantly fighting a system that is set up to deprive us of treatment that provides some quality of life.

If I had cancer, there would be widespread acceptance of any treatment that would provide improvement to my condition and quality of life. No one would think twice about writing me a prescription for opioids. In fact, not prescribing opiates would be considered malpractice. If I had cancer, I would also not be put in a federal database and I would not be looked at with suspicion by my pharmacist.

It almost creates a sense of envy for the chronic pain patient. Aside from the fact that cancer sucks, life might get a little easier for us. Before you argue that no one should wish for cancer, you are right! Cancer is horrible. So is living every day with pain so severe that it leaves a wake of victims in its path.

I didn't ask for this. I didn't choose this life. I didn't ask to be dependent on pain medications that give me the ability to take my children to a movie on a Saturday afternoon. My husband didn't ask to marry someone who cannot participate in household chores without the assistance of a pill.

I relate to the fear of asking for pain medication that will label me an addict, pill seeker, or junkie. We are let down every day by a system that is supposed to provide care for us. We are failed by doctors who took an oath to do no harm. All I want is a pain free day.  Is that too much to ask?

My life is worth more than haphazard and limited care. I demand better. We all should demand better. Our doctors should demand better. If we don't demand these things, then we just create more victims. Write to your doctor, write your representative, senators, and please write the CDC and tell them enough is enough!

Vikki Towsey lives in Virginia with her family. Vikki is a social worker, professional life coach, and co-administrator of the Ankylosing Spondylitis Project, an advocacy group for people with Ankylosing Spondylitis and other chronic illnesses.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us.  Send them to:  editor@PainNewsNetwork.org

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.