New hope for Betty-Anne St. Pierre's unremitting back pain came in a most unexpected way. It wasn't surgery, rehab specialists, or selective root nerve blocks, but the Mind/Body Chronic Service - reinforced by a week on Mustique Island - that made all the difference.
"I had been a mess for a long time, and thought I had exhausted all my options," she said.
"Then I found the mind/body program and started with a bit of skepticism," Betty-Anne remembered. "Early on in the program, my husband and I went on our dream vacation to Mustique, and I was free to really practice the relaxation techniques I had just learned. It was amazing to experience how reducing stress lowered my pain level. That realization was a turning point in my life."
Betty-Anne had suffered from a ruptured disc for years, and coped by exercising, "working through the pain, and ignoring my body's messages." After finally submitting to surgery in 1997, she was left with nerve damage and pain greater than before the procedure. When her neurosurgeon took her off pain killers, she reached her nadir. "At that point I had no hope...I was thinking suicidal thoughts, " she said. "I have a wonderfully supportive husband and son, and I was not even 50. I thought, 'I'm too young to give up on life', " Betty-Anne said.
She found a dedicated team of doctors at the Arnold Pain Management Center (at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center), and "it's been uphill from then on." The team cared for her in many ways, including referring her to the Mind/Body Medical Institue and program director Ellen Slawsby, Ph.D.
"Ellen is a great teacher and wonderful listener. Everyone blossomed through her attention and support," she explained. Betty-Anne returned from Mustique sold on both the relaxation strategies and cognitive restructuring, and could see the other patients change for the better- "light bulbs turning on" - as she puts it.
Today, Betty-Anne has a more positive view and looks forward to "getting back into the game of life." She rests more, listens to a relaxation tape daily, and does "minis" regularly. She has served as a peer leader (assistant) in the pain program to reinforce her learning and provide support to others like her who are just starting the process.
"Mind/body has become so much a part of my life that I just do what I need to without thinking about it. I can feel the difference every day," she reflected.