from the "Heroes of Healing" article - Nicole Hemmenway - publisher, editor, and fellow pain survivor
Dennis Kinch lives by the motto, “Do what you can, when you can.” These seven words have carried him through hardships and triumphs. In 2005-2006, they even spearheaded his crusade to walk the entire Route 66 to raise awareness about chronic pain.
In ten months Dennis walked 2,400 miles with a wheelbarrow containing his personal possessions. He slept in a tent and visited pain clinics and hospitals along the way to discuss pain with others. Extraordinarily, Dennis accomplished this long trek while dealing with his own pain.
His chronic back pain began over two decades ago after twisting his back moving a freezer. Then in 2001, doctors diagnosed him with ankylosing spondylitis and Paget’s disease. Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis causing inflammation in the spinal joints. Paget’s disease involves abnormal bone destruction and regrowth. Although the diseases have begun to attack his internal organs the past three years, he has been able to put type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer and kidney disease in remission.
All movement hurts. He feels pain along his entire spine from his hips up to his eyes. His thoracic spine is covered with metastatic lesions that are weakening the bone, and the interior of the bone is malformed, affecting nerves and muscles. Each day, Dennis deals with electrical sensations, numbness, and burning, pulsing, throbbing, tingling, stinging agony. The only areas free of pain are his face and knees.
Unfortunately, there are no known treatments or cures for these rare diseases. Instead, Dennis has had to learn to adapt and find therapies that bring him some relief. Since he cannot lie on his back or sides without experiencing great pain and fatigue, Dennis’s recliner is very important to his overall wellness. Sitting is now the only way his body can fully relax.
Medications have also helped bring him some pain relief, though it took him nearly a decade to obtaining the correct ones. Dennis takes a nerve medication to relieve the spinal pain, a central nervous system analgesic for the radiating and outlying pain, and an opioid for residual pain. This allows him to be productive and feel more comfortable; he believes his life would be impossible to maneuver without taking these carefully monitored and properly dosed medications.
He has become proficient at distinguishing between damaging and non-damaging pain. He knows which movements, like lifting heavy objects, cause permanent damage. Dennis has also learned how to handle non-damaging pain so that he can participate in life. While most would think Dennis looks normal and can communicate effortlessly, everything from making a phone call to doing household chores causes him delayed onset muscle spasms (DOMS). These horrific spasms leave him completely debilitated for various lengths of time.
Today, Dennis is housebound and nearly bedridden in the advanced end-stages of both conditions. Art, drawing, writing and music help him stay busy. Breathing, stretching and relaxation are now exercises that keep him physically and mentally strong.
For the first 14 years of his pain journey, Dennis experienced many negative feelings, like anger, fear, anxiety and denial. He lost his wife, job and home. It took time for him to accept pain, and what he calls “the positive side of the pain cycle.” Pain ultimately led Dennis to a better place. He met the physical therapist that showed him how to hold on to the “big picture.” Everything that was sacred to him he had previously taken for granted: pain made him grateful for the gifts in his life.
Believing in a power larger than himself gives him the power to accept his fate and forgive himself and others for wrongs done. By letting go, he has a newfound strength in mind, body, emotion and spirit. He walked when he medically should not have been able to walk. He shared his story and became victorious over his condition. “Chronic pain has given me the opportunity to complete the greatest challenge of my life: staying genuinely happy despite constant pain."
Understanding that life is always filled with some amount of pain, Dennis wrote a book that chronicles his experiences on the road and explains the Pain Cycle and Pain Amplifier. His wish for others with pain is to believe in the power within. Believe you can move forward enjoying life and being happy again. Recognize that pain is a journey or an adventure; it will have ups and downs, but it is how we finish that truly matters.
In his opinion, the greatest problem facing the pain community is the lack of validation. He feels non-validation is actually just fear from the giver to the receiver. Pain needs to be better understood so others can empathize. On the other side, Dennis also thinks those with pain need to look at the reasons why no one validates pain and what we as a community can do to change those perceptions. Pain should not have to cost us meaningful relationships, financial security or proper care.
While he has worked with large organizations in the past during his Route 66 walk, Dennis has gained the most strength from the pain community. He felt support that only others who have undergone similar experiences could give.
This is why Dennis likes grassroots organizations run by those with pain, such as U.S. Pain Foundation, Artists in Transitions and Heroes of Healing. Not only are these groups free to join, but they also offer hope, an outlet and valuable resources.
Dennis proves that there are no limits to what we can accomplish. At fifty-five, he is an inspiration, still making every day count. “I guess I see myself as ever-changing and always adapting. While I wish I had the wisdom I do now back in 2001, I am just so grateful to be where I am today. My time is limited but my legacy will hopefully live on forever.”
The Pain Cycle – www.walkforhealing.com
Artists in Transition – www.artistsintransition.org
Heroes of Healing – www.heroesofhealing.com
U.S. Pain Foundation – www.uspainfoundation.org