Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Post cancer fatigue and Getting Back My "Want To...."

Today's been a difficult day. It seems I'm having more of those types of days than I should. I've been suffering from extreme fatigue. I don't know if I should be concerned about this or if it's just post cancer fatigue but it surely is frustrating.

My days start pretty early. I'm usually up between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. I don't get up that early because I have to, but because I want to seize the day. I've always been a morning person. The mornings have always seemed to be the best part of the day. There's nothing like rising early to catch a glimpse of the sunrise as the beautiful pinks and purples fill the sky. I love hearing the birds sing as they greet the day. Their joyful tunes fill the air with heartfelt hope. Rising early is a pleasure.

While the house is quiet and still, I can focus on tasks ahead of me and since cancer, I've learned to slow down just a bit and enjoy the time even more. A wise friend told me life is lived in minutes not years and boy, was he right. One of the most important gifts cancer gave me was helping me understand this concept. This year, I've truly learned to live in the moment savoring each precious one and holding it dear.

After breakfast, I began to conquer menial tasks around the house. I was full of energy and full of joy. As I went about my duties, I was thankful for the ability to perform the daily chores. Last year, it hadn't been easy to carry the laundry basket full of clothes or lug the vacuum cleaner around the house. My body was still healing and I was forced to take it slowly. Since my incisions had healed, I had begun to pick up where I left off. Instead of asking for help when a task was difficult, I managed to do it myself. I was stubborn. I cherished my independence. My husband never minded giving a helping hand when I'd ask, but I was finding I didn't need to ask quite as often as I had in the past. That felt good.

Before I realized it, the clock struck noon. Where had the morning gone? It seemed like I'd just gotten started! After stopping to enjoy a salad, I looked at my list of things to do. I had a few errands to run in town so I gathered my things and headed out. While shopping, I noticed my energy level had begun to wane. I pushed through my tiredness and kept going. Just a few more errands to run and I'd be done. Two hours later, I was on my way home. Sitting behind the wheel of the car, I yawned. It was almost 3:00 p.m.

For the past few weeks, I had noticed a trend in my circadian rhythm. My most energetic time of the day was early morning between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. Mid morning I slowed a little but still had enough steam to do the things I wanted to do. By lunch, I could feel a marked difference and after 3:00 p.m., I noticed a huge change. Was this early afternoon fatigue due to age or was it an after effect of cancer's effects on my body? I wasn't exactly sure. Maybe it was both.

I've never been one to take naps during the day. No matter how tired I was, I always kept going. Lately however, I'd found myself becoming increasingly exhausted and felt the need to close my eyes. Leaning back in my recliner and enjoying a power nap had proved to be very useful and gave me the strength to make it to bedtime. Learning to listen to my body has been hard for me. I don't like admitting I'm tired. My husband has no problem taking a nap whenever he feels the need to take one, but not me! I've always been like the Energizer Bunny and kept on going and going and going.

Since my energy level has become so low, I've begun to let my mind wander to the land of "what if." Is my Vitamin D level low again? It has been several times in the past and I've needed to be put on an extremely high dosage of the supplement to correct the deficiency. The oncologist told me it was fairly common for cancer patients to suffer from low Vitamin D because of their lack of exposure to the sun during and after treatment. I hadn't wanted to be outside much lately because I'd been so tired. I could see a vicious circle developing. I didn't want to go out and do things because I was too tired to do them but I needed to be out in the sun because it helped my body have more energy. I also wondered if possibly something more was going on inside my body. I'd opted to forego traditional medical treatments for cancer and was following a more holistic approach. I wondered if perhaps it was no longer working.

It was concerning to be experiencing such fatigue. I don't see my oncologist for a checkup until next month. When he does blood work, will a problem be indicated? Am I being overly concerned for no reason? Should I continue to make myself do the things I need to do even when I'm exhausted? The answer to all of these questions is "I don't know." What I do know is that post cancer fatigue is a very real thing and it affects many women for various periods of time after diagnosis and treatment. Will it ever go away completely? I have no idea. I'm inclined to think I'm probably going to be stuck with some level of fatigue for the rest of my life.

I'd like to be able to do the things I did before cancer with the same amount of enthusiasm and gusto but things are different now. I guess learning to accept my current energy level goes hand in hand with learning to accept my "new normal." There are so many things cancer has changed about my life but the most significant for me, being a constant mover and shaker, has been the limitations it's placed on my physical energy level. For now, I'll continue to push through when I'm tired and make myself do the things I need to do but on days like today, it's awfully hard.

Sometimes it's good to just rest. It's important to listen as my body tells me what it can and cannot do. I'm hearing it a little more clearly now than I have in the past few months. I've taken a few naps on occasion and haven't felt guilty. I guess that's a good thing. I'm still learning how to "get through" this journey. A lot of people don't understand even after treatment ends, the side effects of cancer don't. I'm trying my best to get my "want to" back but my "get up and go" feels like it got up and went.

Since I know the earliest part of the day is best for me, I try to schedule important projects or appointments during that time. I'm learning to readjust my schedule and be okay with limitations. I'm not the same as I used to be before cancer and I never will be again. Cancer has drastically changed me.

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