Chronic Pain Is No Laughing Matter, Says Comedian

PHOTO: Hearing-impaired comedian Kathy Buckley eases pain through laughter.
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Kathy Buckley is a successful comedian who has guest starred on television shows like "Good Morning America" and "Touched By an Angel," but her life wasn't all that funny.

The stand-up comic has been hearing impaired since childhood. Her academic performance was so poor that in the second grade she was placed in a school for the mentally impaired.

"Talk about being slow," she quipped about her teachers.

At the age of 20, Buckley was run over by a Jeep while sunbathing on the beach and experienced years of chronic pain and intermittent paralysis in her legs. Then she was hit with cervical cancer -- twice.

Today, at 58, she has overcome years of chronic pain, mostly by changing the way she looks at it psychologically.

Buckley will be bringing her award-winning good humor to the fourth annual Women in Pain Conference, "Reframe Your Pain, Reclaim Your Life," on Sept. 16 in Los Angeles. The conference will examine the psychology of pain and using pain as a positive experience to give women the tools to "reclaim their lives."

"I will go in and make them laugh," said Buckley. "Do some stand up, based on truth from my life experience and then share some stories."

"I find that when people find pain in their lives, it becomes something bigger than it needs to be," she said. "Pain is something you have to find a way to live with and then move on."

The conference is sponsored by For Grace, an organization that seeks to increase awareness of the gender disparity women experience in the treatment of their pain.

It was founded in 2002 by Cynthia Toussaint, who suffered for 29 years with complex regional pain syndrome and chronic fatigue.

The conference will introduce women to nonconventional therapies to take control of their pain: mindful meditation and guided imagery, diet, exercise, yoga and even social media networking.

An estimated 80 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, according to the American Chronic Pain Association. Research also shows that women are hit more often and with greater intensity.

For Buckley, how one views pain is crucial to beating it. One of her pet peeves is hearing people say, "my cancer" or "my pain."

"Whoa, why psyche your brain out?" she said. "Pain is nothing but a visitor, not a permanent guest in your house."

Mind Affects Immune and Inflammatory Systems

Conference speaker Beth Darnall, a pain psychologist at Oregon Health and Science University, said the mind-body connection can shift the emotional response to pain.

She conducts research on how psychology influences the immune system and inflammatory processes.

"If we suddenly have an expectation every day that it will magically be different and then it's not, we are upset about it," she said. "There is a level of acceptance -- not to say it will be bad for the rest of my life, but accept that the pain is here, and now can I focus on the areas of control I do have around pain."

Darnall teaches how to engage the relaxation response, which is the "polar opposite" of the normal response to pain: elevated heart and respiration rates, constricted blood vessels, tight muscles and "agitated thinking."

She also urges women to take care of themselves.

"I help them learn to self-nurture," she said. "That's tough for women when they conceptualize nurturing as something they give, but to turn it inward can be very powerful in the healing process."

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