During and After Treatment, a Different Kind of Fatigue

The type of fatigue that I had before my diagnosis was different from how I felt during treatment and immediately after. The first, I could push through. The second, not so much.

In the hospital, focusing on exercise and rest

I wouldn’t say I was lucky to be hospitalized for weeks at a time and to be told not to return to work for a year. But in a way, I was lucky not to have to pull myself together to go into an office. A friend with breast cancer said her wig was part of her outfit. I didn’t like the way the wig felt, and I didn’t have to wear it.

I made sure that I got some exercise most every day, even while in the hospital. As I wrote previously, I rode an exercise bicycle in my room, walked around the nurses’ station, and, when I was up to it, walked along hospital corridors.

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I also took frequent naps. I had books and magazines and videos and TV to keep me occupied. But I was frequently unable to concentrate, and I gave in to the urge to close my eyes.

Low blood cell counts plague my time at home

Back home, while resting in between chemotherapy sessions or recovering from my transplants, I could tell when I needed blood. It was hard to pick my feet up. I remember taking walks with my mother and saying I needed blood. I tried to lighten it up by using a vampire-like voice. As in, “I vant blood.”

The next time I went for a clinic visit, sure enough, I would need blood. If my red blood count was low enough, I would also get a shot of Aranesp (generic name Darbepoetin alfa.)1

I would ask if I could have the “Lance Armstrong drug.” That wasn’t really what he took to boost his performance, but they knew what I meant.

(The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused him of taking Erythropoietin (EPO), used by athletes to increase the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in their system.2)

The shot and/or the blood perked me up.

Judging my fatigue by different standards at home

When you’re in your own environment, you judge yourself by different standards than you do when you’re in the hospital. Or at least, I did. What I mean is that I never ran through hospital corridors, so it didn’t bother me to trudge through them.

But back home, I knew how I used to feel in my neighborhood. I had an image of myself running up and down rolling hills, or dashing off to a tennis match, or briskly walking my dog around the lake.

After my first transplant, I could barely make it up a small hill to get to the soccer field where my daughter was playing. Tears of frustration filled my eyes.

Learning to pace myself

I had to learn to pace myself. My daughter needed me to drive her around, and I told her I could do one thing each day. It might be going for a little walk, or it might be driving her to a friend’s or going shopping.

In the beginning, I couldn’t go in stores, but I didn’t mind sitting in the car reading.

My two sons were mostly off on their own. Being home gave me the chance to spend more time with her than if I had been working. I remember her encouraging me to walk up a hill.

“Come on Mom, you can do it, come on Mom, you can do it.”

We linked arms. She cheered for me when I made it. Over time, it got easier.

Lemonade out of lemons.

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