Cancer Fatigue

No, that’s not just when you’re tired of hearing about it, or when you’re tired of having it––It’s being tired because you have it.

Well, the oncologists and the nurses did mention that cancer is tiring and I could expect it to hit me. I came back from Spain buoyed up by the good time I’d had with old friends and new. I could walk farther than I had in years. I did have a few moments now and then when I sagged so visibly that whoever was closest would ask if I were okay. But I managed not to collapse. So I figured after I came home, I’d just slide back into my exercise routine for the next two weeks before carrying myself off to the worldcon in Spokane.

And then wham! It’s a different sledgehammer than chemo fatigue but it’s a sledgehammer. It was almost like cancer ambushed me just to remind me it’s still here.

One of the stages of grief is bargaining and I guess that’s where I am. I realised I’ve been proceeding as if my working hard on improving my physical condition, getting back into shape, and acting like I don’t have anything wrong with me will drive the cancer away. Hell, if my blood pressure, heart-rate, BMI, weight, and general physical condition are all in the healthy range, then how could I possibly have cancer?

Yes, yes, I know––people in peak physical condition get cancer all the time. I know that intellectually. I also know you can’t cure cancer by working out. (If you don’t know this, or you don’t want to believe it, you can either do the research or just take my word for it; just don’t argue with me, I’m too tired.) I also know, because my no-nonsense oncologist explained it to me, that I can’t expect to be cured or to go into remission. The best I can hope for is that treatment will keep the cancer stabilised at a low level and prevent it from growing and spreading for a while; probably not a long while but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

I know this. I’ve said it before, many times. I’ve explained it to friends who have mistakenly thought I’m in remission because I don’t look or act sick. I know exactly what’s going on, what to expect, and what not to expect. And still I’m trying to make secret deals with the universe: If I lose 10-12kg over the next 6 months…if I build up my endurance…if I exercise at least four days out of seven and build up to five…then could I please not have cancer?

Even admitting what I’m doing doesn’t stop it, maybe because bargaining with the universe involves a certain amount of denial. And anger––cancer patients are angry, even when they don’t show it.

Well, what the hell. There’s no downside to being in good physical condition. Or even just better physical condition. I’ll still get hit with the cancer fatigue sledgehammer. But when I’m not tired, I’ll be unstoppable…and despite all evidence to the contrary, still trying to make a deal.

This, too, is part of the cancer experience. Cancer, cancer fatigue, and cancer neurosis.

Fuck it. It’s cancer––give yourself a medal just for showing up. Walk tall. Unless you have to lie down for three hours. Then lie down tall.

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28 thoughts on “Cancer Fatigue

  1. Lie down tall… That’s beautiful, Pat.

    I hope you’re lying down tall for a long, long time… But even more that you’re feeling like walking tall in Spokane.

    Luck!

  2. Lie down tall…excellent advice. I’m just recuperating from surgery and I’m tired all the time. I’m never much of a go-getting dynamo, but this is getting old even for me. Thanks for your words of wisdom. Take care of yourself. *hugs* from Omaha, of all places!

    Terry

    • Hang in there, Terry and lie down tall. And seriously, get lots and lots of rest. Even minor surgery will take it out of you. *Hugs* from London

  3. It’s hard to explain cancer fatigue to most folks, but you did a great job. Your other points (bargaining, conditioning) were also spot on. A pleasure to find this blog.

  4. I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in March. I had lung mets, the chemo was palliative (because breathing is a Good Thing). Just recently, they found brain mets, I’m in the middle of a 10-day course of whole- brain radiation therapy. I don’t have a LOT of spoons, but if you need one I think I can at least dig up a demitasse for you. 🙂

  5. I just read this after debating whether I had the energy to go to my workout class this morning. No lying down tall for me. I’ve also been on a campaign to raise money for research since it is sorely lacking for metastatic breast cancer. Swimming my a$$ off and raising funds. Visit my webpage http://www.onewomanmanylakes.net and pass it on. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for this, Pat! Going through chemo and it’s sure knocking all my spoons away. I’ll be in Spokane too – not going to let this stop me.

    • Good for you, Chris!

      I’ll keep an eye out for you but if you see me first, flag me down and say hello.

      I plan to spend most of my waking hours in whichever bar becomes the central hanging-out place. Not because I want to drink all day but because it’s a great way to meet up with the people I want to see.

      Maybe I can buy you the beverage of your choice and we can toast our refusal to let it get the best of us.

    • Honey, you said a mouthful.

      My husband and I were caregivers for my mother, who died at 92 in 2012. We had a two-year breather before I got sick.

      A cancer patient, or anyone with a long-term illness, is a heavy weight that needs to be distributed. Many caregivers don’t get half the support they need, both psychological and practical. I hope you have people who can help with moral support and respites.

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