When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer everyone in my family went into shock. After my diagnosis I had 6 months of treatment. It’s been 20 months since my diagnosis now, and I am still feeling the effects of cancer-related fatigue.
During treatment, I needed to sleep and rest more often. The physical and emotional demands of coordinating multiple specialist appointments around every-day work, home, and family life was challenging. Often, it seemed like there weren’t enough hours in the day to do everything and look after myself as well. During treatment, I experienced a number of side effects, many of which resolved after completing treatment; unfortunately some have not resolved as expected. My chemotherapy has left me with nerve damage in my hands and feet, causing pain and numbness. My shoulder is still painful after my surgery, and I have been suffering nausea for over 12 months now, and suffering from anxiety.
Unfortunately as pain and fatigue persisted after treatment, I was unable to continue to work. I was absolutely exhausted even though I was spending 12 or more hours a day in bed. Cancer fatigue is not like just feeling tired. It doesn’t get better just after a good night’s sleep or a holiday.
Initially the thought of doing exercise was daunting, and I would come home and sleep for 2 hours, but I rarely do this now. Over a 9-month period I have improved a lot. I have worked really hard on my exercise program to rebuild my strength and balance.
My recovery has taken a lot of patience and I have had to curb my strong tendency to just push on with whatever I’m doing just to finish it. I have to remember to match and pace my activities to the energy I think I have each day.
I am very conscious of the benefits of exercise for my overall health, but specifically as a cancer survivor. Fortunately for me, so long as I pace my activities, exercise makes me feel better, it reduces my pain and I always feel more cheerful afterwards.
In Australia, cancer directly affects 1 in 3 males and 1 in 4 females before the age of 75. There are more than 100 different types of cancer, however prostate, bowel and breast cancer, melanoma and lung cancers account for more than half of all cancers diagnosed in Australia. Depending on the type of cancer, treatment may be varied and can include several different treatments such as: surgery (removal of the tissue), immunotherapy (treatment to stimulate the immune system), hormone therapy (treatment to alter hormone levels), chemotherapy (drug treatment to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells), or radiotherapy (treatment using radiation to kill or damage cancer cells).
Cancer patients experience a wide range of side effects from these treatments including hair loss, nausea, loss of appetite, skin changes, constipation or diarrhoea, memory and concentration changes, neuropathies, and anaemia, just to list a few. Of all the possible side effects, fatigue is the most common and often the most debilitating side effect, with up to 90% of people experiencing cancer-related fatigue.
Fatigue experienced by cancer patients is different to typical fatigue symptoms, as it often comes on unexpectedly and may not always be associated with exercise or having a busy day. Patients often described it as “your whole body and brain feeling tired” and unfortunately, it is not relieved by rest or sleep.
This video by Dr Mike Evans shows how YOU are the medicine for cancer-related fatigue:
As Exercise Physiologists, we consult with a number of clients who are currently undergoing treatment or have been diagnosed with cancer. One client describes their journey from diagnosis to treatment below:
For information on how Exercise Physiology can help support you through your journey, contact us at Inspire Fitness for Wellbeing on 9857 3007.
Written by Nicole Marlow, Accredited Exercise Physiologist.
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