Two-time cancer survivor shares her struggle with fatigue months and years out from treatment.
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
When I talk to the doctors about my fatigue, it feels like the doctors nod sympathetically and then metaphorically pat me on my head and send me on my way. The exams, tests and blood work have been completed. There is nothing tangible for them to treat. But, hey, I am tired, and I am sick and tired of being tired.
"The experts" say fatigue is a common, lingering side effect of cancer treatment. I am almost five years out and I have talked to other breast cancer patients that far out who also struggle with fatigue. What’s the deal? What is the answer? Is there an answer? Do other survivors struggle with this too?
One breast cancer survivor told me she was still "an exhausted mess" at four-plus years out from her diagnosis and treatment. She told me she was amazed that I had the energy to write a cancer help book during the time right after active treatment. In the end, she did say she thought her fatigue got gradually got better for her after four years or so. I am five years out from breast cancer and a year out from melanoma, which has only been treated with surgery and frequent biopsies. I will wait and see.
Experts suggest healthy eating and exercise to combat the fatigue. That makes good sense to me, but sometimes the exercise just wears me out even more. Where is my energy? Where is my reserve? How do I distinguish between age-related issues and cancer or cancer treatment-related issues?
Sometimes I start to question myself. Maybe I am just lazy? Is there something wrong with me? I recently pushed myself for several days straight in my daughter’s newly purchased condominium. We ripped out stained carpet and removed wallpaper from several rooms and cleaned. I worked. I sweated. I worked. Often, I found myself curled up in bed afterwards having a late afternoon nap, heading back to the condominium for more "fun" and then sleeping soundly all night too. Some days I felt too tired to lift my arms. No one else working on the condo projects (my husband and daughter) needed a nap. What’s the deal with me?
Where does the exhaustion come from? Is it the chemotherapy and radiation and surgeries? Is it body changes because I also had my ovaries and uterus removed? Is it hormonal changes from my anastrazole? Is it fatigue from the lingering stress and fear of cancer recurrence? Could it be a combination of some or all of the things above? I don’t know.
I do try to be gentle with myself. I get plenty of sleep at night. I pray. I take naps. I take breaks. I drink coffee (high in antioxidants). I exercise by taking walks when I make the time to do it. I try to make healthy eating choices, but sometimes I don’t. I meditate and focus on nature when I need to also. I use distraction like a fun event or a fast-paced movie or a project or a good book to get my mind to a different place. All of these things help. None of these have really taken away the lingering fatigue or the late-in-the day shakiness that I still sometimes have.
I continue to try to pull myself forward every day. I am happy and grateful to be here — don’t get me wrong — but I am just so tired of being tired. Do you have fatigue too? How do you address your fatigue? Let’s share and help each other through this.