One of the biggest side effects of breast cancer treatment is fatigue. I don’t mean you’re going to be tired. I mean it’s the “I can’t even crawl across the room” kind of fatigue, which makes me wonder, who’s the goose who named it “fatigue?” I would have called it catastrophic exhaustion!
Fatigue is something that gradually develops over the course of chemo and/or radiation and is cumulative, which means the fatigue you experience early in treatment may differ from the catastrophic exhaustion you feel on the last day of treatment. Here’s hoping you’re Wonder Woman, and you can just shake those power cuffs in the air and fly through your day. If you can, please bottle it, sell it, and make a bloomin’ fortune. If not, you may need a little help.
Believe it or not, exercise helps fight fatigue, plus it’s one of the needed components for a healthy immune system. Yes, there will be days you don’t feel like doing anything and days you want to conserve your energy, but try and do a little something each day. If you don’t exercise at all during treatment, you may find it more difficult to resume normal activities when treatment is over. Exercise promotes lymphatic drainage, thereby helping your body rid itself of unwanted toxins and fluids; it relieves depression, reduces stress and rids the body of excess estrogens. IMPORTANT NOTE: For all of us whose breast cancer was estrogen positive, we need to make exercise a permanent part of our daily routine.
During treatment you may not be able to keep your normal schedule, so don’t push it. Listen to your body. There are days you may not feel like getting out of bed, and that’s okay. Sometimes it may help to conserve your energy if you’re planning to attend something important, or you might want to drop in only for a little while. Then there are other times, it won’t matter how much you’ve rested and stayed in bed, you’ll still feel like you’ve been hit by a gravel truck, and that’s normal, too.
One of those zero-energy occasions for me was Monica’s wedding, the wonderful friend who runs my husband’s office. James was walking her down the aisle, and I’d been looking forward to her wedding for months. When the big day arrived, I waited until the last possible minute to get ready, thinking I would conserve my energy all day, but I never even made it to the shower.
Usually my body didn’t give me any advance warning it was about to run out of energy. One of the few days I ventured to the grocery store during chemo, I was halfway down the first aisle when my energy ran out. I don’t mean I was just tired. My energy well was dryer than the Sahara Desert, and I was worried how I was going to get out of the store without crawling on my hands and knees (never mind paying for my things at the checkout counter) make it to the car and drive home. If this happens to you, don’t panic. Stay focused, ask for help if you need it, and know you will be fine. This, too, shall pass.
Sometimes I was so tired and out of energy, I was afraid to go to sleep for fear I wouldn’t wake-up. Seriously. If you’d told me I was about to take my last breath, I would have nodded in agreement. Each time, I’d ask James to lie down beside me and hold my hand, because I didn’t want to “go” alone. Each time, he reminded me this had happened before, and just like the other times, I was going to be fine, and he was right.
On another note, when I was 10, every afternoon the lady who lived across the street used to pay me to bring her bottles of Pepsi from the store. Her idea of exercise was pushing a rolling pin across her thighs while watching The Price is Right. I can only imagine how she’d exercise if she had breast cancer fatigue.