A Multi-Pronged Approach to Fighting Cancer Fatigue

March 21, 2020

Breast cancer and melanoma cancer survivor learned that a combination of changes helped her beat fatigue after cancer treatments.

After active treatment for breast cancer, I was worn-out, sore, and frightened that breast cancer would return. After surgical removal of a melanoma a few years later, I willingly turned into a scarred pincushion for several years. My dermatologist diligently biopsied many additional moles and even performed additional surgery on several extremely suspicious moles.

Two years ago, due to new genetic testing, my doctors and I determined a prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction was the best choice for me. This resulted in a yearlong list of surgeries and procedures.

Feeling tired and sore can almost become a habit while a cancer survivor is monitored for possible cancer recurrences. Do you want to feel better faster? Attack fatigue and weariness on multiple fronts.

Do not wait to feel better. Even if you think you "should" be tired and worn down after everything, if you are struggling with fatigue, tell all your doctors and ask for concrete suggestions. Some solutions may be as simple as a medication review and/or blood test.

Some might include a visit to a psychiatrist who specializes in sleep. After several years of complaining to my internist and oncologist, I went to a second sleep specialist - a sleep psychiatrist.

Work from several different angles.

Books - I reached out to several books that helped me motivate myself to keep trying and to make changes. I reread Christiane Northrup's book Goddesses Never Age. I worked to exercise more, which for me, meant starting out simply with walking every morning. It seemed counterintuitive almost, but exercise really helped my fatigue.

Doctors - I also went to see a sleep pulmonologist, who, after a sleep study, prescribed a CPap machine. It then took several years (don't wait) and a sleep psychiatrist to dial in on the best equipment and settings to help me get more relief from my CPap machine. I also worked with my new sleep psychiatrist to try to design a more successful approach to weaning off an anxiety medication that may have been contributing to my fatigue. The drug was Paroxetine HCI and she prescribed it in a more measurable liquid form to reduce it more gradually than I had ever tried before. It is taking a little over two months but finally, I may be able to get off of this medication which can contribute to fatigue.

Behavior Changes - It can be hard to change habits, especially when feeling tired and worn out. I got a light box (light therapy lamp) on Amazon that seemed to improve my depression/attitude after just a few days of use this past winter. I also gradually reduced my alcohol consumption. I made some diet changes including less processed sugar, less refined carbohydrates, less red meat, and less dairy. I diligently began to use my Cpap now that it is working twice as well as it ever had for me. I walk each morning most days of the week. I continue with the extra-long weaning schedule for the Paroxetine HCI.

Guess what? I feel better! After years of procedures and blood work, and being persistent, trying some new things is helping. The circumstances and solutions for each person will be unique, but please do not give up the search.

Above all, fellow cancer survivors, keep hope. Do not accept that fatigue needs to become part of your "new normal." Even if you tried to improve your energy a few weeks, months, or years ago, consider trying again. The science and knowledge base to help us is getting better all the time. Be persistent in seeking help from multiple resources. You can do this.


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