McGill

Pain

Dr. Christine Maheu, RN, PhD

Dr. Christine Maheu is an Associate Professor in the Ingram School of Nursing, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University. Dr. Maheu is also an Affiliate Scientist at the University Health Network and the University of Toronto. At McGill University, she teaches research methods, supervises graduate students (masters, doctoral, post-doctoral), mentors practicing nurses and students in research, and conducts research in English and French. She has held research awards with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. These awards funded her research in psychosocial oncology, which focuses on developing and testing psychosocial interventions or measurements tools for various cancer populations. Additionally, in partnership with Ipsos Canada and funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, she is co-leading a nationwide survey of the needs of cancer patients for transition care from the end of their treatment to three years after their diagnosis. Dr. Maheu received awards for excellence in nursing research (2013, 2015, 2016) from Ovarian Cancer Canada, the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology, and the Quebec Association of Nurses in Oncology.

View all Cancer and Work team members

Ms. Rosemary Cashman

Ms. Rosemary Cashman is a nurse practitioner at the BC Cancer Agency and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of British Columbia. Her professional experience includes the care of lymphoma, lung cancer and brain cancer patients. She co-chairs the Patient and Family Advisory Council, which guides the brain tumour care program at the BC Cancer Agency. She has authored book chapters and articles related to the care of brain tumour patients and their families. Ms. Cashman was involved in developing and implementing a rapid-access radiotherapy clinic for the palliative treatment of lung cancer and she continues to work in this clinic.

View all advisory board members and expert writers

Kyla Johnson, Occupational Therapist, Segal Cancer Centre, Jewish General Hospital

Ms. Kyla Johnson, M.Sc.A., originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Kyla Johnson works as an Occupational Therapist at the Segal Cancer Center of the Jewish General Hospital. She holds a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from McGill University. Her goal as a rehabilitation professional in Oncology is to enable people with cancer to be able to do what they want and need to do, in all stages of their cancer experience. Kyla helps develop strategies and accommodations to facilitate a return to meaningful life roles, including work. She is specialized in cancer-related cognitive dysfunction and runs a weekly group teaching strategies to improve daily cognitive functioning. Kyla also leads a volunteer yoga class for young adults with cancer. She lives in Montreal, Quebec.

View all advisory board members and expert writers

Ms. Maureen Parkinson, Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor, M.Ed. C.C.R.C

Ms. Maureen Parkinson is the province-wide vocational rehabilitation counsellor at the BC Cancer Agency. She has also been vocational rehabilitation counsellor at a public rehabilitation hospital and vocational rehabilitation consultant to insurance companies and the court system. She has instructed and facilitated Service-Canada-funded programs on job searching and career exploration. Ms. Parkinson has a Masters in Counselling Psychology, is a Canadian Certified Rehabilitation Counsellor, and completed the Certified Return to Work Coordinator Program through the National Institute for Disability Management and Research. She has developed return-to-work and job-search seminars for cancer patients and created the guidebook “Cancer and Returning to Work: A Practical Guide for Cancer Patients” as well as on-line articles about returning to work and school. She also co-authored a paper commissioned by the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology, “Cancer and Work: A Canadian Perspective”.

View all Cancer and Work team members

Not everyone with cancer experiences pain. Pain may be caused by cancer itself as it creates pressure on or invades the nerves, bones or organs.1 Some types of cancer treatments, including radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy can also cause discomfort or pain.

Understanding its cause will help tailor its treatment. Pain may be dull and achy, sharp or burning, or may even feel like an electric shock. In the case of brain cancer, pain may cause headaches. Pain related to cancer itself is often controlled by cancer treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and anti-inflammatory steroid medication. Pain from cancer and pain caused by treatment can also usually be effectively controlled by pain-relieving medications. If you have pain, you should talk to your doctor about treatment.

Vocational implications

Depending on where the pain is experienced, it may restrict your mobility and movement and curtail some of your work-related activities. Pain can also make you more tired. Pain medications can be very effective, but they also may cause side-effects, although most side-effects either lessen with time or can be controlled. Sleepiness, nausea, and constipation are common side effects of medications such as opioids (like morphine), and all of these problems can also affect your ability to work.2 Sleepiness may make it harder to concentrate at work and pose safety risks in operating machinery or driving. Steroids may cause sleeplessness and agitation. Ask your doctor what alternative pain medicines could be tried if you have side-effects from your current treatment. Pain itself can also cause you to feel irritable and frustrated, especially if it persists for a long time, and you will be able to function much better if you have effective pain management with appropriate medications.

What you can do

There are many ways to manage pain effectively. These include medications of many types, but also non-pharmacological techniques such as relaxation therapy, massage, exercise3 and even supportive counselling services can contribute to relief. Speak with your healthcare provider for help in developing an individualized pain management plan.
Track your pain level and activities throughout the day to determine the optimal times for pain management intervention.

  • You may want to consult the Canadian Cancer Society web page on managing pain.
  • You can also consult the booklet How to Manage your Pain (PDF) produced by the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Patient & Family Education Program.
  • If you are taking dexamethasoe for brain tumour or other kind of cancer, you may find helpful information at dexamethasone from the BC Cancer Agency.
  • The website Chronic Pain Association of Canada also has resources to help you manage your pain. They recommend keeping a pain diary to track your pain levels and intensity. This information may be beneficial if you ask for changes at work based on the pattern of your pain throughout the day.

Overall, your main task is keeping your pain level under control. This means taking your pain medication regularly, as prescribed and as needed. If your pain is not managed or if you experience new pains, these situations should be addressed by your healthcare team.

Job accommodations

Modify your work tasks and how you work:

  • Work from home when possible.
  • Adapt your work schedule and tasks:
    • Ask for flexible work hours to accommodate your capability.
    • Request extra rest breaks.
    • Identify and request shift preference to match your optimal functioning (for example, day shifts only).
    • Identify the tasks/workspaces/positions that cause you the most discomfort and work with your employer to develop alternatives. For example, you might be able to do more if you have a desk with a standing up option or a special chair.
  • Reduce physical exertion:
    • Perform tasks that are less physically demanding.
    • Use electric tools to replace manual effort.
    • Reduce repetitive tasks; vary these tasks with other duties.
    • Consider mobility aids such as a two-wheeled walker, which can take a significant amount of weight off the weight-bearing structures of the lower extremities and will fit in most spaces.
    • Change positions frequently to minimize physical demands on your body.
  • Pain can be exhausting; see Fatigue for more suggestions.

Modify your work environment:

  • Request access to a refrigerator and/or microwave to store a hot/cold pack.
  • Maintain a comfortable temperature to reduce further increase in pain: Consider using space heaters, fans, portable air conditioners or humidifiers/de-humidifiers for comfort.
  • Request a professional ergonomic evaluation of your workstation. If this is not possible, here are a few tips:

Next:

Nerve damage

Back to the list of common cancer treatment side effects