Leah Abrams, of Fairfield, couldn’t figure it out. The pain was debilitating. “It felt like someone was kicking me in the gut with steel-toed boots,” she recalls.
Finally, two years later, she got her answer. She was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and gastroparesis (a condition that reduces the ability of the stomach to empty its contents). “It’s worse than labor,” Leah adds.
Leah’s First Attempt at Relief
She had a nerve-ending surgery that, unfortunately, caused so much nausea and vomiting she needed a feeding tube to get enough nutrients.
Then, there was traditional medication. Leah was prescribed to take 5mg of oxycodone every six hours. Still, however, the pain hindered her quality of life. She even had to give up driving. “I live with my mom, Janet, and she helps me out tremendously. She gets me to all my appointments. She’s there for me and she understands. We’ve been through a lot,” Leah points out.
A New Approach: Pain Management through Lifestyles Changes
In 2014, Leah’s primary care doctor, Steven Jung MD, of Bethesda Family Practice Center, recommended something she’d never considered: a Chronic Pain Management Group. It's a free, weekly program offered at Bethesda Family Practice Center. Each meeting covers a particular topic, including how lifestyle factors – like sleep, diet and stress – can affect pain.
Participants then learn lifestyle changes that can aid in pain management (sometimes these are used in conjunction with prescribed pain medications). Some techniques Leah uses include:
- Eating nutritious, small, frequent meals that fuel the body (e.g. chicken and a vegetable)
- Practicing daily meditation
- Performing moderate exercise, like stretching
Finding Empathy in Her Peers: “We Share What We’ve Learned”
Leah says her favorite part of the group is the connection she shares with her group peers. “Just knowing you’re not alone is helpful. You hear about other people’s experiences, and other people share their tips,” she explains.
Since starting the program in October 2014, Leah’s noticed significant changes. “I felt myself getting more active. I started feeling better about myself,” she smiles. “You can turn the negative into a positive with almost anything.”
She's also more aware of stressors and how they influence pain. She now practices relaxation exercises and takes her Maltese, Bailey, on walks to keep her stress in check.
Now, nearly four months into the program, Leah’s sharing her own tips with anyone who will listen, including her two children, Lindsay, 20, and Zach, 29. “I tell them, ‘Your body’s like a car. You have to keep the correct maintenance and you need to fuel it,’” she says. “I’m changing my whole way of thinking, and I can go out there and put those tools to good use and that helps. I’ve learned so much. I’m grateful for the group. I really am.”