Sore back. Take my word, life's more fun without one.

My back’s been giving me gyp the past few weeks. I have three collapsed vertebrae; the L12, L8 and T4. The L12 is from a motorcycle accident in my twenties (1985) and can ache a bit from time to time, but it isn’t generally a problem. The T8 dates from 2013 and the L4 from 2020, and are caused by damage from the myeloma eating away at the bone.

The L4 had the added bonus of crushing my sciatic nerve, giving me painful sciatica down my right leg for many months. After my second stem cell transplant, my medical insurance company paid for me to attend a cancer rehabilitation physiotherapist who did a great job sorting that out. Her treatment included dry needling, which gave long-term relief to the sciatica. I’d never had it before and recommend it to anyone with nerve pain.

But the past month has seen pain alternating between L4 and T12. Posture — particularly which chairs I sit on and then struggle to get off — makes it better or worse. It pays not to get too comfortable in a chair you can lean back in. Everyday activities like picking something up off the floor or putting a log on the fire require interesting twisting and leveraging my body off furniture or other parts of my body. Fortunately, I can crawl on my hands and knees to get around—seeing me doing that to get to something I can haul myself up on must be somewhat amusing.

I’ve developed a technique for rolling over in bed. I grip my pyjamas in one hand and leverage my own weight to pull me around to roll over. It works really well, although my wife thinks I need some device on the bed to help with this. I think that would just get in the way.

Anyway, the pain can be ‘managed’ with combos of paracetamol, codeine and morphine sulphate. Provided I remember to keep on top of it. That's how I can end up sitting up in bed at 4am waiting for the paracetamol to kick in, about 20 minutes in my experience.

We have also discovered I am 10cm shorter than 15 years ago! I’ve shrunk from a strapping 173cm to a mere 163-162cm (depending on the time of day we measure my height—taller in the morning). I look a little odd in the mirror as the height has gone from my torso and seems obvious. Or maybe that’s just me being self-conscious of it.

I don’t want this to sound like I’m complaining. I’m not. It’s just a fact of life at my stage of cancer and life. My mind of patient acceptance and understanding of the emptiness and temporary nature of phenomena I’ve developed through my Buddhist practice has been enormously helpful in not wishing it wasn’t there. But it is, so that’s that. Suck it up, Iain, and let it go.

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