Monday, July 28, 2014

This Crushing Fatigue

I had chemo last Monday. Every three weeks, indefinitely. 

Last Wednesday, I went to a yoga class and ran into one of my regular instructors in the studio's lobby. She asked how I was doing. "Okay, just a little exhausted from chemo this week," I told her. "Oh, is this just maintenance stuff?" she asked me. "Sort of like that," I replied. Most people don't understand that my hair could be growing, I could be in remission, and still need chemo. Most of the time, I don't get into it.

Until scientists find some better detection methods and can tell me definitively that there are no breast cancer cells left, I will probably be on some sort of drug to keep this at bay -- just in case. As well as I'm doing right now, I am not willing to risk taking this safety net away, even if I have been flattened -- crushed -- by the fatigue of it.

According to the website, cancer-related fatigue is common: 

What is fatigue?
Fatigue can be confused with tiredness.  Everyone gets tired.  In fact, it is an expected feeling after certain activities or at the end of the day.  Usually, we know why we're tired and a good night's sleep will solve the problem.  Fatigue is less precise, less cause-and-effect.  Fatigue is a daily lack of energy; an unusual or excessive whole-body tiredness, not relieved by sleep.  It can be acute (lasting a month or less) or chronic (lasting from 1 month to 6 months or longer).  Fatigue can have a profound negative impact on a person's ability to function and quality of life.

What is cancer-related fatigue?
Cancer-related fatigue (CRF - sometimes simply called "cancer fatigue") is one of the most common side effects of cancer and itstreatments.  It is often described as "paralyzing."  Usually, it comes on suddenly, does not result from activity or exertion, and is not relieved by rest or sleep.  It may not end - even when treatment is complete. 

What I'm on is not as harsh as the toxic chemo-chemo I used to be on. This is no Taxotere or Carboplatin. But it is still cumulative (or I am just getting older and less adept at recovery). After 14 months of Kadcyla and almost three years since my diagnosis, I am wiped out. 

I don't have the words for how tired this chemo makes me. I was never much of a morning person before cancer, but now I am groggy until mid-afternoon. I am cranky and ornery and feel decades older than my thirty-five years. I feel like I'm moving through mud. I am irritable and short-tempered and I cry at the slightest frustrations because I don't have the energy for a more measured reaction.

Anemia isn't to blame; my blood counts consistently look okay, which was confirmed again this morning. I'm getting what most experts say is enough sleep per night: about 7.5 hours, give or take, depending on steroids or Quinn's sleep gymnastics or my anxiety levels. It's too hot to hike, but I'm still making it to a fairly intense yoga class three times a week, most weeks. (Though sometimes I think I go to yoga to spend most of my time in child's pose, resting on my sweaty mat.) I finished my 39.3-mile walk.
Am I overdoing it when I feel well? Is it being a parent to the energizer bunny? Is it the heat of the Phoenix summer? Am I not drinking enough water? Enough coffee? And the worst: is the cancer growing again?

I'll feel better in a couple of days. I'll make it to yoga again this evening and spend less time in child's pose than I did last Wednesday. Quinn and I will have the day together tomorrow, inventing new ways to beat the heat (I'm thinking ice-skaing lessons for both of us might be in order soon). We'll go to California for Chris's 20-year high school reunion.

And then I'll have a week and a half of feeling nearly normal before this cycle begins again. Just enough time to almost forget how sluggish I'm feeling now. 

Are you sidelined by chemo-related fatigue? How do you combat it? What other side effects do you take on in order to keep on keepin' on?


  1. I remember this fatigue from my last round with chemo. I have no solution except I wish I lived nearer. You need help. My daughter was a godsend but she was old enough to help. Hang in there.xox

    1. Thanks, Lulu. This disease is utter nonsense, isn't it? xo

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  3. Hi Jennifer,

    The fatigue is intense. Thank you for this enlightening post on the subject. Your yoga teacher was pretty unknowledgeable and/or insensitive about what you are going through.