Pepper was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy, and after 24 of her lymph nodes tested positive with the disease, she underwent a bone marrow transplant. In the weeks that followed, she also endured radiation therapy, exams, and treatment with oral pain medications.
"Six years later, I had pain in my arm and thought maybe I'd broken it," Pepper explains. "But they discovered metastatic disease in my thoracic spine. In recent years it has moved to my sacral area, my left hip, upper left femur, right humerus, and I have small tumors in my lungs."
With the spreading cancer came bone pain. Pepper took more oral medications.
"They weren't satisfactory to me," she says. "They took a long time to work and I had to take so many to get relief."
With the large amounts of medication Pepper was taking, it wasn't safe for her to drive. The pain limited her mobility until she could stand for only five minutes at a time before she had to lie down.
"I had a diminished quality of life," she remembers. "I had so much pain in my spinal and sacral area. The only relief was to just lie down with the oral drugs. Every day was that way. I couldn't function. I live alone and not being able to sit, walk, or drive made me dependent on others."
In addition to oral medication, Pepper tried physical therapy for the pain. While the therapy helped with stretching and positioning, it did not take away the pain.
Pepper's oncologist and a pain specialist thought she might benefit from Medtronic targeted drug delivery, a treatment that uses a pump to deliver pain medication directly to the fluid around the spinal cord. The pain pump is connected to a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. Both the pump and catheter are surgically placed under the skin.
"I was willing to try anything to get some quality of life back," she recalls. "At that point in time I had been living with cancer for 12 years and I was worried about the assault of chemotherapy and oral medications on my kidneys, liver, and other organs. To me, the oral medications were as compromising as the pain itself."
Pepper had the pain pump surgically placed in September 2008. After the surgery, Pepper was surprised that she did not feel any discomfort. She wore an elastic bandage around her abdomen for two weeks after the procedure to protect the incision site.
While Pepper did not experience any surgical complications, they can occur and can include spinal headache, infection, or anesthesia complications. Post-implant complications may include an inverted pump, catheter issues like leaking, dislodgement, or kinking, or drug-related side effects.
Pepper credits her pain pump with giving her more freedom to pursue the activities she enjoys most.
"I have my independence back," she explains. "Before the pump I couldn't stand or walk. Now, I feel safe doing any number of things."
Pepper takes long driving trips to visit friends in other states. She hosts dinner parties. Her grandchildren spend the night.
"I couldn't do any of these things without my pump," she says.
Pepper's pain pump also allows for her to give herself bolus doses when her pain increases. "I rarely use the bolus dosing because my pain is very controlled. It is always a 0 to a 2 on a pain scale. On days when it is a 2 or higher, I use a bolus dose to bring it down."
"It was depressing when all I could do was take oral medications and simply exist," she continues. "My life is so much fuller now. The pump has made a huge difference in my life."
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.