Outrunning Fatigue

Outrunning Fatigue

I know we talk about fatigue a ton here, and rightfully so.  It’s one of the worst side effects of any disease, and cancer gets it in spades.  The disease and the cure both cause exhaustion and tiredness.  The thing is, there is more to fatigue than just being extra sleepy or needing a nap.  Fatigue has so many facets, it’s difficult to enumerate them all.  That’s why it is so insidious.

The three facets of fatigue

Like I said above, fatigue can be both a side effect of the cancer itself and is almost always a side effect of chemo.  Yes, we’ve all seen the quintessential portrayal of a chemo patient, lying in bed, unable to move much, and napping frequently. While this is certainly what some patients experience, many more of us are more like the walking wounded – we go through our day with only a portion of our faculties working at one-hundred percent.  That’s mainly because fatigue is made up of three main parts – tiredness, energy drain, and lack of motivation.  Three components that are more than the sum of their parts.  At first glance, those three things may look identical, but if you dig deeper you’ll find there are more than subtle differences, and that’s why fatigue is so debilitating.

Tiredness

It’s the facet of fatigue everyone is most acquainted with and it is exactly what the name says – an extreme form of tiredness that makes you want to stay in bed all day.  Right now, even though I am only going through a maintenance chemo phase, I still find myself sleeping ten, sometimes eleven hours a day.  I can’t stand it, either.  I hate having wasted such a big chunk of the morning.  It kills me every day, and every night I tell myself this is the night I will go to bed earlier.  Unfortunately, even if I go to sleep at an earlier time, I can still easily stay in bed for twelve hours if I let myself.  The exhaustion is real, and it’s a monkey on our backs that just won’t let go.  It makes getting any work done extremely difficult, and I frequently work late into the night just to be able to write and do other tasks while I’m fully awake.

Energy drain

This is a lesser known aspect of fatigue, but it’s no less crushing than the other two.  Energy drain is a constant sink on the energy you do manage to muster, which makes everything two times as difficult.  It’s like you are walking through waist-deep snow, or like you have one-hundred extra pounds dragging behind you all the time.  The energy it takes to start a project is immense, and the energy you expend doing it is so much more than it should be that it makes you want to do nothing else all day.  Our gas tanks have a leak in them, and the more we move, the more fuel leaks out.

Lack of motivation

I don’t know about other people, but for me, this one’s the killer.  It’s the one component of fatigue that is the most difficult for me to beat, and the aspect I spend most of my time trying to overcome.  When you are fatigued, you have absolutely no desire to do anything but sit and watch TV or read a book.  You don’t want to get up to make food, you don’t want to get up to sweep the floor, and you certainly don’t want to do any real work.   It’s as if your body weighs one-thousand pounds, and instead of not having the energy to move, the dread you feel about the energy you’re going to have to expend to move makes you not want to even try.  Deep down, in your heart of hearts, you want to stay in the chair and binge all five seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix.  Unfortunately, you know your articles won’t write themselves, you know the pets won’t feed themselves, and you know the groceries definitely won’t shop themselves.  So, you reach down to that area of yourself where you store your reserve of resolve, and you get up and do as much as you can.  Make no mistake, though, it takes a mental fortitude on a scale rarely seen to beat the lack of motivation, and fortunately, cancer patients are some of the toughest mofos around.

More than being tired

So, as you can see, fatigue is more than simply being tired.  Sure, there are other components to fatigue, but the triad above is the big three.  When you are on chemo, it’s one of the daily battles you have to undertake, and it is sorely underrated in terms of difficulty if you ask me.  Nausea, pfft.  Phantom pains, bah.  Hair falling out, I look better bald anyway.  Fatigue, though, is scary.  It has the most potential to keep me from being the me I tell myself that I need to be.  It can be lessened, it can be partially mitigated, but it can never be defeated fully.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (16)
  • bluchs
    1 week ago

    Thank You Daniel
    You are so right on about this fatigue
    I actually thought I was alone?
    I am tired all of the time, and that was never who I was.
    I spent my entire life, with about 6 to 7 hours per night of sleep, I did not want to waste time in bed.
    Now I am up at 6AM, but by 5PM, I need to go to bed, I try to watch the news, before I roll over and try to sleep, getting up, every 3 hours, in pain all night, every night?
    My energy is now at a minimum, I was always a very high energy type person, always doing something, I could sit down, and a few minutes later, I would be up and doing something again? Now, it is hard to get up again!
    I do still try to get motivated, I try to go for walks, even though it hurts, just to force myself to get some exercise.
    All you say in your story is true, and you are not alone.
    Fatigue is our enemy, but we must at least try, when possible, to fight it by moving, and staying as positive as we can.
    If we give up, we loose.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    1 week ago

    @bluchs 6am! Man you’ve got at least a few hours on me! 😂 I also hate wasting time in bed and now I find myself shifting my work day to about noon to 9-10pm, leaving me ZERO time for anything else! I don’t ever want to leave anyone out, though, especially if they need help. Also, you’re not alone, nor do you ever have to be! You’ve got us at the very least and everyone here gets it, trust me. Thanks for reading. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • bluchs
    6 days ago

    Thank You Daniel
    I am actually, very much enjoying this site.
    Sharing My situation, plus seeing I am not alone, and experiencing what other people are also going through?
    Well it Helps

  • ElissaNYC
    1 week ago

    Thank you Daniel for truly articulating fatigue in a way that I can best explain my fatigue to people. I have always been the go to person for everything and have recently been upsetting people when I’ve had to tell them that I just can’t do it.
    And you really hit the nail on the head with the last one – the lack of motivation which is a killer for me and takes everything I have to get started. I do find if I can get past that once I am moving I am better motivated to continue.
    And you are 100% correct, I have multiple myeloma and have been through induction chemo, radiation, stem cell transplant, nausea, excruciating bone pain. But nothing is as distressing to me as fatigue and this is just on maintenance chemo.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    1 week ago

    @elissanyc I’m so glad that you found my description accurate, but sad that you experience fatigue in the first place. No, not sad, I mean MAD! Mad that we all have to deal with this horrible part of being chronically ill. My motication ebbs and flows like the tide, and it’s annoying, to say the least. Keep on keepin’ on, and thanks for reading. DPM

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    1 week ago

    @elissanyc– Fatigue is yet another downfall to multiple myeloma, and it’s sad you need to explain this. Chemotherapy by no filter is harsh, upsetting, and grueling… period. We just can’t move to the full power we once did, and this goes for the young and older affected. If you make a strategy of moving about with this negative factor (fatigue) it may work in your favor. If the afternoons call for a nap or a 20-minute break every day, then do so. Do not feel compelled to provide a drawn out reason- “This is now because of this”. If you feel more energy afterward then that is the time you can schedule a time to do the movement you once were able to do. Also, we all tend to put more on our plate than we need to, and when we can’t do that anymore, we think something is wrong with us… but it’s not. Keep going at your “new” pace, and doing what you can when you can. Best!

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    5 days ago

    @danielpmalito I think there could be a mix. Before I was diagnosed I would work a 9-5+, go home clean, cook, and then work to 1-2: 00 am on side businesses. Now if I make it to 11:00 pm with everything going on, that is saying a lot. I get what you’re saying though (smile).

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    6 days ago

    @yolandabrunson-sarrabo You are dead on with that assessment, but I fear it’s probably from experience 🙃. You know we always put more on our plate than we should – I think chronically ill people are some of the least lazy in the world despite not getting as much done. Thanks again. DPM

  • Carole McCue
    2 weeks ago

    Thank you Dan. You have clearly described fatigue assoc with chemo. Can’t believe that you were able to include all the aspects. It is exactly how I remember the horrible six months during my chemo experience. It was incapacitating.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    1 week ago

    @cmccue Thanks for reading Carole, and don’t sell yourself short, your articles are always on point and as informative and evocative as anything else out there. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Carole McCue
    1 week ago

    Daniel, thank you for your kind words. This community is so rewarding we can share and learn from each other . Sending you healing hugs🤗🙏🏻

  • Judy
    3 weeks ago

    For me, there is another layer: depression. Some days are almost impossible, literally.

  • Daniel Malito moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    @judy Sorry to hear that Judy, but when I was in a similar state, my doctors recommended I consider using an SSRI. They told me that no only would it help elevate my view, but also there have been studies about how anti-depressants can help with actual, physical pain. Thanks so much for reading, and remember, you’re not alone. If you are feeling down click on over here and we can chat. Or you can just hang out with people who know exactly what you are going through! Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Judy
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you Daniel. I will try to keep it in mind.
    JAS

  • Anthony Carrone moderator
    3 weeks ago

    I hear you, @judy. Depression can make the day seem impossible to concur. I know there is a screen between all of us, but know that you’re not alone. A few of our advocates (@katieruane, @yolandabrunson-sarrabo) have written about their battles with depression and seeking happiness. Here are a few links that may help you feel less alone on those nearly impossible days:
    https://blood-cancer.com/living/depression/, https://blood-cancer.com/living/happiness/, https://blood-cancer.com/coping/. In addition to the support you get here, many people benefit from in-person support groups as well. Please know we are always here for you! Sending hugs and warm thoughts. -Anthony

  • Judy
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you Anthony for all the resources and thoughts. I appreciate all the support.
    JAS

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