Fatigue – it is the ongoing side effect from treatment that just doesn’t seem to go away.“One of the main side effects of your treatment plan will be fatigue” they say.
“It is completely normal to experience fatigue after active treatment” they say.
“Your body has been to war and is healing, the fatigue may take a good couple of years to subside” they say.
Whether you are currently undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy or have finished active treatment, fatigue is real and it is so much more than being a bit tired… What the Doctor’s don’t say is just how debilitating fatigue can be, how frustrating it is when you are cashing cheques your body can’t cash, how just because you chose to have a busy week/weekend you were floored for two days straight, how long it goes on for – potentially long, long after active treatment has finished, how when you feel that you are much better and moving forward it will sneak up and smack you round the chops as if to say “ha, you thought you’d gotten away from all this crap” or how you can be so exhausted that if your house was on fire you would have a serious debate in your mind about whether it was worth leaving the sofa…
The problem with fatigue is that until you have truly experienced it, you can’t even comprehend what it really is – like so much of this “journey”. The other problem with it is that it is invisible, it is not an obvious or comprehensible disability. It is not something you get a special parking permit for, and yet post-treatment, when to all intents and purposes you are officially “better” and everyone expects you to be fully back to “normal” there can be times when you can be so exhausted that you can actually feel dizzy with it all, or when the simple act of reading and responding to a text is too exhausting to contemplate.
So what is the solution? Well I will start by saying I haven’t got it fully solved yet, nowhere near in fact, but the following are some of the things that I find help me.
Sleep & Relaxation
Well duh! But considering insomnia is something I continue to struggle with post-cancer, I find that when I make an effort to have a proper sleep routine it helps, even if I haven’t actually done much sleeping. Taking myself to bed at a decent time, having a hot milky drink after dinner (yes I’m turning into my mum!) switching off the electronics and taking a magnesium supplement* before bed, using a lavender pillow spray like the Tropic Skincare So Sleepy spray, and reading a little in bed all helps me to relax and give my body a chance to recharge – sometimes I even sleep!
I’ve also become a big fan of a duvet day and a nana nap. When I first started all this, I used to think that this was “giving in”, that I needed to fight this urge to crawl back to bed (or the sofa) for a while. This just made the problem worse, so instead I decided to embrace it. Now if I have a busy week or a full-on day, I unashamedly plan to have a weekend/day/hour where I deliberately do nothing or even go and have a little lie down… my body thanks me for it! Sometimes, I think we are so busy fighting this thing, showing everyone how “well” we are doing, we forget to be kind to ourselves – so my first bit of advice is do yourself a favour, snuggle down and chill out.
Diet & Hydration
It is very easy when you are exhausted to reach for the chocolate, caffeine and sugary drinks – your body craving that quick fix sugar high. The problem with every high though is that according to the basic law of gravity, what goes up, must come down, and before you know it, you have crashed and burnt! I find that my fatigue is far better managed when my diet is healthy and balanced with lots of fruit and veg – proper nutrition that is naturally high in vitamins and minerals and plenty of water. I know I bang on about water in just about every post I write, but it truly is the elixir of life, and throughout every stage of treatment, drinking plenty of water seems to have been one of the main solutions to managing/minimising the impact of treatment.
If you are looking for a quick “hit” or boost, a handful of nuts or a banana will help (I really must remember to stick to this one!), or you could also try mixing a couple of drops of peppermint and sweet orange essential oil (or other uplifting essential oils) and breathing in the aroma for a mental freshen up.
*Please check with your medical team before taking any supplements to ensure they will not impact your treatment plan
A good vitamin B complex can help massively in the fight against fatigue – both mental and physical, with the added benefit that it can also help boost your immunity, support healthy skin and hair, and help with chemo brain too! Iron supplements and Coenzyme Q10 (COQ10) are also well worth considering to help boost your energy levels naturally. Remember to take your iron supplement with orange juice/vitamin C and at a different time of day from magnesium/calcium if you are also taking these to maximise the efficiency of the supplement.
Finally, but importantly, Vitamin D is one that we all (especially if you are UK based) tend to be a bit deficient in, and can contribute massively to good energy levels. The NHS now recommends that everyone (and especially cancer survivors) takes a vitamin D supplement during the winter as it is hard to get enough Vitamin D from food alone. So, whilst being at risk of rattling when you walk, it is well worth adding this supplement to your daily routine.
It may sound counter-intuitive, and it may well be the last thing on your mind when all you can think of is getting home to crash on the sofa, but regular exercise can make a huge difference to your energy levels. I’m not saying you need to go for a full-on insanity-style workout (although whatever floats your boat) as if you are full of fatigue, I imagine the thought of that probably makes you feel even worse! However, a gentle walk, a bit of light yoga/pilates, or whatever you feel you can manage which gets your body moving and your blood circulating will help to keep fatigue at a manageable level.
On top of my regular exercise routine, I’ve started using a great yoga app called Down Dog to regularly do a 15 minute yoga practice as soon as I wake up, and I really notice the difference on the days when I take the time to start my day this way. It has been clinically proven that just three 20 minute low intensity exercise sessions per week can significantly boost energy levels, so dig out those trainers or yoga mat, and get yourself moving. Who knows, maybe you will discover a previously undiscovered love for running or find a new post-cancer hobby in the process.
So there you have it, my definitive guide to beating fatigue and boosting your energy levels. In short, look after yourself, eat and drink healthily, take supplements if you need to and move more. I’ll be getting right on it… just after I finish my nap!