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.
After reading this article I felt a sense of relief that it wasn't just me. I am back at work three days a week after the removal of a rare cancer, dedifferentiated liposarcoma. It was a 6 hour surgery to remove a tumor the size of a football and I lost my left kidney. I had radiation, a very aggressive recurrence and chemo. I have been back at work for 8 months and the disability insurance company treats me like I am trying to pull one over on them when I say that I'm so tired and I'm doing the best I can. Thank you for an article that really hit home!
Wow. Thank you all. I definitely feel less alone with this, but it also sad there are so many of us struggling so far out with fatigue. Just to clarify, I was 46 at diagnosis, and I am now 52, yet my body feels much older than that to me. I hope everyone reads each others' comments and ideas. Honestly, there is more good information in the links and comments then in my article.
Thank you so much. It is very frustrating it takes me at last 3 days to recoup after exhorting myself. I have neuroendocrine carcinoid tumors in my liver. I have a young daughter so I don't have a choice but be as active as possible. The reply about the Ritalin is interesting, I may need to look into that.
I finally feel like someone understands!! I was diagnosed at 40 and am now 45. I just hit the 5 year mark (yeah!), but I still suffer from fatigue. I call it "hitting the wall". I too thought I must just be lazy or if I just eat better or maybe my meds need to be adjusted. All the books tell you that you should be back to your old self in about a year. I have moments where my old energy level returns, but I can't put my finger on how to keep it going. Will try some of the suggestions here. Thanks Barb for starting this discussion. We need to keep this discussion going!
Hi myb, I was treated in 2007 with bilateral lumpectomys, 8 chemos, bilateral radiation, then anastrazole---terrible joint pain. Terrible fatigue! Decided to retire after 15 mos of fatigue (psych RN) age 62. Now at 69 fatigue 80% better. But post chemo periph neuropathy conts. Taking gabapentin n cymbalta. Are you on meds? How has the accupuncture helped the neuropathy? I am so glad you have gotten some relief! Also , how did you know how to find a acupuncturist? Any help appreciated. Thank you, JAC
I can identify with all the fatigue. My first cancer was 2001 and second in 2007. Two years ago my oncologist suggested gabapentin and cymbalta as well - the side effects gave me the creeps, so I never took them. One year ago a new primary care physician ran a complete set of blood tests (22 vials from chemo destroyed veins - can you relate). What was found with the blood work--- is VERY low Vitamin B and D rates plus the radiation from my second go-around caused part of my thyroid to be weakened and thus attacked by a virus. I am on a ton of supplements - mostly natural prescribed by my PCP and we are working through thyroid meds. She also suggested reduction in sugar and an attempt to eliminate processed foods from my diet, which is helping. My oncologist was very interested - but it seems as long as my cancer isn't back, they aren't as involved. I'm not back to my old self - but the fatigue has greatly been reduced. Thank goodness for the new primary care doc!