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Explaining the fatigue that can follow cancer treatments is difficult, so I am going to put one of my earlier unpublished blog posts here for you to read.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.”

Asher

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.

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  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,

    Cheers!
    Annie

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