Tom Norris Tom Norris
American Chronic Pain Association

Pain persisting beyond 6 months is defined as chronic pain. According to a 2018 United States (U.S.) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, chronic pain is experienced by 50 million adults on a nearly daily basis in the U.S. alone, 19.6 million of whom experience chronic pain that interferes with their way of life. Unfortunately, many struggle to find effective pain management solutions, as experienced by U.S. Air Force Retired Lieutenant Colonel Tom Norris. Tom’s story with chronic pain started in 1986, 2 years after a testicular cancer diagnosis, surgery, and 30 days of radiation therapy. Tom now leads a rich and fulfilling life through support from family, friends, and others living with chronic pain and the assistance he himself has provided to others through support groups and advocacy work. However, his journey from first experiences with chronic pain to managing his relationship with pain was neither short nor easy.

Chronic pain drastically changed the course of Tom’s life. He had once looked forward to a long military career and traveling with his wife after retirement. While still in the Air Force, Tom underwent surgical procedures in hope of alleviating his pain. Without success, Tom, then a Squadron Commander, became an Air Force Inspector General, but with time could not meet the travel requirements due to his increasing pain. He then accepted a desk job as an officer for the Chief of Air Force Safety. He was eventually medically retired due to mobility loss, at which time he was told that he was 100 percent disabled. After retirement, Tom’s wife turned to the civilian world for solutions to his pain.

For years Tom struggled to find pain management solutions, trying acupuncture, bee stings, faith healing, medications, and others. He eventually attended a chronic pain management course where he learned the role that stress played in worsening his pain. Even with a lack of success in true pain management, Tom pushed forward knowing that he had support and encouragement from others. During this time, he joined the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA), where he found support groups and learned that he was not alone in living with chronic pain. While still searching for solutions, Tom and his wife found a doctor who believed only in the use of medication and prescribed the potent opioid fentanyl. While this treatment provided relief, it left Tom unable to complete the simplest of tasks. After almost a decade on the medication, Tom decided that he was not achieving his desired quality of life and ceased long-term fentanyl treatment. Throughout this time, he maintained friendships and learning in the ACPA, which assisted him in facing chronic pain and trying to maintain a meaningful quality of life.

Tom has since taken back his life and manages his chronic pain through a positive attitude, robust faith, a loving wife, a great chronic pain management doctor, and the support he found as part of the ACPA. Over his time with the organization he has been a member, facilitator, regional director, head of various member advisory committees, and has represented the ACPA at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institutes by supporting meetings, interviews, symposia, and social media. Tom has also served as a consumer peer reviewer for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, including the Chronic Pain Management Research Program (CPMRP) in Fiscal Years 2019 (FY19) through FY21, the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program in FY18 and FY20, and the Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program in FY20. Tom’s advocacy work keeps his life busy, exciting, and filled with a purpose that had previously been stripped away by chronic pain.

When Tom is not reading, praying, watching movies, writing, being active on social media, or researching new topics, he spends much of his time helping others with chronic pain, be it by lending an open ear to listen to someone’s story, participating in the chronic pain advocacy organizations, or representing the chronic pain community as part of the CPMRP. Tom is humbled to be part of the CPMRP and their mission to understand and find ways to manage chronic pain. He notes that it is “exhilarating to know that the Department of Defense and the U.S. Congress are concerned about the pursuit of reducing or eliminating chronic pain suffering and to be part of that process.”

Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022