Cancer Related Fatigue… Recovery Takes Time

This morning, I finished the first strength workout I have done in over 3 years. I got up at 5:15, got my gear on, and tuned into Whelan’s Wellness. I am not going to lie, I cried a little at the end, and I cheered a little, too.

Up until now, I did not have enough energy to push my body into any kind of muscle burn. I tried a number of times over the past year and a half or so and ended up depleted and sick halfway through the session.

I was never a fitness guru, but I have missed regular exercise since my cancer experience. I’ve stayed active by walking and doing yoga off and on when I could, but I haven’t been able to really get my heart rate up on a regular basis.

Explaining the fatigue that can follow cancer treatments is difficult, so I am going to put one of my earlier unpublished blog posts here for you to read. This was written almost a year after I had finished cancer treatments and I was still so obviously struggling….

Fall 2020

I spend a lot of time googling “long term effects of chemotherapy.” Nine months out from cancer treatment, I still get so, so tired. Sickly tired. I read the same internet articles about chemo brain and long-term cancer fatigue every couple of weeks when I get tired of being sickly tired. It never helps. But it reassures me that I am not alone and not losing my mind.

Cancer related fatigue, or cancer treatment related fatigue, does not end when cancer treatment ends. For example, yesterday I got up in the morning and had coffee. Then I cut up some veggies from the garden, washed some dishes and made a pot of soup for lunches during the week. By 10:30 I felt like I’d run 10 miles.

The fatigue and I are intimate now. It steals in like a ridge of low pressure. There I am, a brilliant sun, singing and laughing, doing laundry or cooking supper or chatting with a friend over a cup of tea. Then my thighs get weak, my arms get loose, pains cross my back, my lungs complain, my throat constricts, my tongue ties knots. I must sit down. A cloud has enveloped me with a hollowing out of my brain. My head becomes an empty melon husk, your words echo about without meaning.

It is a fatigue that one can drown in.

A fundamental difference in my body is that I used to be able to do any physical, mental or emotional task. I used to push myself all day and all night. My friends and I called it “power through.” Before I had cancer, I was sometimes tired, but I did not stop to rest. Now my body hurts just from sleeping. I wake up sore and tired like someone ran me over, or beat me with a baseball bat. When I try to power through I get really ill. It’s just not possible.

I am not complaining about this reality. I am happy to be alive, I am happy to be working, I am happy to have a family and friends around me. Oh my god, the joys of life!! A cozy sweater on a chilly day fall day, or floating face up in summer in dappled sunshine on Badger Lake while my kids paddle their kayaks…

Most of the time I know that I just have to take it easy. I do “fatigue management.” That is a thing where you plan what you are going to do in the run of a day. I have a wonderful occupational therapist who is helping me fatigue-manage my way back into the workplace. There are three categories which I must fulfill every day: Leisure, Self-Care, and Work. I have to balance activities in all three of these so that my energy stays at an equilibrium. I have spent some time logging and tracking my activities to see what empties my bucket and what fills my bucket. I love walking in nature with my dog and I do it every day, so that fills my bucket. But sometimes I walk too far or too fast, and I get so tired after that I get sick. And then I have to rest. And sometimes I do everything I am supposed to do in the right amounts and I am still exhausted.

Sometimes, I feel almost like I used to feel. I feel strong and clear and I can see to the end of the day. I fight the urge to do too much, and sometimes I fail…

So I chuck fatigue under the chin and tut-tut. I give into him knowingly, an indulgent mother giving up the productive moments of her day. I have to welcome him, because to scorn him is to invite a storm.

I can live with fatigue. It has made my life simpler in this time of a pandemic. How easy it is to refrain from doing a million things!! How absolutely fantastic, to be quite honest.

When something presents itself to me now, I think “Why am I doing this? Do I want to do this? Is it important? Can I do this and still have energy left for the things I really want to do?” I pick and choose what I do. I didn’t always do that. I often did what I thought I had to do.

The rain makes the sunshine sweeter, the wind brings to mind the warm of the calm.

Spring 2022

I think I’ve come a long way since then. But I continue to listen to and honour the needs of my body. I am happy to say that, today anyway, that allowed me to get some strength training in! Also, getting up so early gave me time to do this blog post so – yay!

“You seem like you’ve been doing cocaine.”


3 thoughts on “Cancer Related Fatigue… Recovery Takes Time

  1. Glad you are doing “well” and remember to always listen to your body Janine, you are very important to a lot of people especially to yourself. Enjoy the sunshine this summer and let it spread across your soul. Take care, always rooting for you.


  2. Hooray for you, Janine! So glad you’re at full strength. I know it was a long, tough journey.

    I look forward to more blog posts about whatever you choose to share,



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