It’s Not Laziness, It’s Chemo Fatigue

CURE Ambassador Program | <b>Michelle Velez</b>

Chemotherapy-related fatigue is a real and often debilitating side effect from cancer treatment.

Before I had cancer, I was a hard-working career mom. I was a morning news anchor for NBC and had to wake up every day at 3:30 in the morning to start my day. I worked this shift for nearly 20 years. After my kids arrived, going to bed at 5:00 pm to ensure a good night's sleep was hardly possible, and many nights I was lucky if I few hours of rest. In other words, I know what exhaustion feels like.

After cancer, I started to notice a daily occurrence of extreme fatigue that was unlike any form of exhaustion I had ever experienced before. At this point, I was several months out of chemo and just thought it must be my body still adjusting. Then I hit one year out of chemo, and then a year and a half – and still every single day I would get completely fatigued. The fatigue was different because unlike the tired I felt after a long day with no sleep or an all-nighter with a baby, this would hit out of nowhere and I would HAVE to lie down and sleep right then and there.

I felt bad because my husband would have to pull the slack after his long day at work. Sometimes I would fall asleep on the couch with screaming kids and noise all around, and it didn't even phase me. The fatigue was so intense it took over all of my senses and would literally floor me. I started to really stress about coming across as lazy because I had to sleep all the time. Before, I could literally run on empty, and now I could barely get through a day even after a full night's sleep.

I was worried people didn't believe me and would secretly think I was just using cancer as an excuse. By people, I mean my family members and friends who would have to step in to help. At about a year and a half out of chemo, I finally went to my doctor to have my full blood work done. At this point I was convinced something must be wrong. I thought maybe I'm still anemic, or perhaps my thyroid is messed up. And of course, there's always that nagging thought that always in the back of your mind what if it's cancer again?

That blood work came back perfect – not a thing was wrong with me. My doctor handed me a printout talking all about chemo fatigue and how it is still a medical mystery. They don't really know why it happens, but it does. That was the moment I finally started to accept that this really must be long term effects from chemo. I started to realize this is not my fault. This is not me being lazy. This is not a cancer excuse. This is not me being a bad mom. This is a real side effect of 16 weeks of poison getting pumped through my veins. On one hand, I am grateful to know nothing is seriously wrong, but on the other, it's frustrating and depressing to realize that this may be my new reality. I used to be strong and vibrant and now I feel weak and fragile – but I'm alive.

So, if you are experiencing this, I’m here to tell you that it is real. You are not imagining things and you are not lazy. Other cancer survivors have told me they are years out from chemo and still struggle with the fatigue. My doctors told me it would be a while before I felt normal again, but I had no idea it could be long lasting. I wish I had known that sooner. It would have saved me a lot of guilt and frustration. This may be your new normal, so take your rest when you need it and please try not to feel bad about it.

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