Pain cost Dennis Kinch his job, his home and his family.
"You end up feeling alone on an island wondering who you are now," the Boston man says. "Pain runs your life."
But it wasn't going to ruin it, Kinch decided. The 51-year-old cook suffers from two diseases that make walking painful, if not impossible - so that's exactly what he did. He walked 2,400 miles, from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., along Route 66, starting last fall and ending Friday. Along the way, he stopped at 35 pain clinics to talk to patients and doctors as a spokesman for the National Pain Foundation.
"Do what you can when you can," Kinch says. "Sometimes it seems like everything is negative. You have to learn to tune that negative stuff out. That's what keeps people in pain on the couch - they get scared. They're afraid of the pain."
Pain has become a national epidemic and one of the nation's most dismissed and undertreated conditions. More than 75 million Americans - one in four - suffer from chronic, debilitating pain, and more than 50 million of them are partially or totally disabled by it, according to the Englewood-based NPF.
Government statistics show that pain is a factor in more than 80 percent of all physician visits, yet fewer than 1 percent of doctors have training in pain treatment, says NPF Executive Director Mary Pat Aardrup.
"Pain is viewed as a character flaw. It's an invisible disease," she says. "You don't have a bandage, you haven't lost any hair. When someone is in pain 24-7 - and a lot of people are - family and friends tire of hearing about it, and they often go away. Your self-worth and dignity go away. Your identity as a person vanishes. You become the pain."
The portrait of pain in America looks like everyone: It cuts across all genders, races and ages, including an estimated 20 percent of children. But surveys find that people are afraid to talk about it, reluctant to treat it and dismissive of it in themselves and others.