In the cancer world, people aren’t just tired, they are filled with fatigue. Being tired implies you feel rested after a nap or a good night’s sleep. Fatigue is tougher because there is no feeling of renewal. Instead, many of us force ourselves to push through the fatigue cycle each day.
I could understand the fatigue while going through my chemo treatments. It’s a grueling schedule where my sole focus was to do everything I could to not let this cancer kill me. That stress, on top of working full-time, nearly landed me in the hospital many times. I remember after my second treatment of the Adriamycin (also known as Red Devil) and Cytoxan), I got so dehydrated from nausea and dry heaving that I called the emergency number for the cancer center super early one morning, went in for an IV of fluids that took three hours to infuse through the port in my chest and then went to work.
The fatigue and side effects from my 16 rounds of chemo pushed me over the edge. I could no longer drive and was using a cane to walk. My legs were so weak and I suffered terrible dizziness. I would actually fall down a lot and/or fall into things. When that started happening at work, I knew I had to finally take that short-term leave of absence without pay because due to a technicality, I was not eligible for short-term disability through the type of insurance the company provided. People always ask me why I worked during all my active treatment. It’s called being single, underpaid and having no choice because someone had to pay just the regular bills on top of the medical ones.
I naively thought that feeling of trudging through mud each day would end after chemo and my surgeries were over. I thought radiation would be a piece of cake. My medical team kept telling me my body should tolerate radiation much better. I so desperately wanted to believe them.
For me, there was a major difference between chemo fatigue, working full-time fatigue, surgery fatigue and then radiation fatigue. I took eight weeks off (five were unpaid) after my surgeries to heal from that and try to heal from chemo. I started radiation on May 16, 2016 and ended on July 1, 2016, two days before my 40th birthday.
Much to my surprise, I found the radiation schedule and side effects to be just as grueling as chemo. I had to get 33 radiation treatments once my plastic surgeon released me to do so. Since I had a lumpectomy and due to the size of my tumor, radiation was needed to kill any remaining microscopic cancer cells. The treatment itself was barely five minutes long. Here was my daily schedule:
Arrived to radiology by 8:30am every single day
Changed into my radiation gown (received a beautiful silk gown to wear to each appointment)
Wait for my name to be called
Get positioned on the radiation table (it took longer to position me just right than the actual treatment)
Then time for the radiation beams. I never felt a thing.
Talk with the nurses about any issues. I will talk about the horrible burns in a different post.
Go to back to the dressing room and lather my left boob with aquafor cream to help protect from burning and change into my clothes. Again, there will be more on that in a different post.
Walk back to my car and drive to work
Repeat for 33 days straight except for holidays and the two days they gave me off because of my burns and state of mind. That’s a lot of fatigue on top of fatigue. I was already fatigued by the time I got to work and still had a full day ahead of me.
Cancer treatment, active and post, is a beast. I have not bounced back like many other warriors I know. I’m still in a constant state of fatigue and my quality of life is about 30%. My energy comes and quickly goes. This is my reality. I don’t know if I will ever have true energy again.
That’s life on the cancer train…the unknown…
Until next time,