Managing Side-Effects and Fatigue

By: Barbara Lynn Burns

In May 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and have battled the disease for the last five years. Over this time, I have undergone surgery to remove my tumor, chemotherapy, and radiation. I’ve been on boosters, IV Herceptin, and many medications. As you can imagine, all this treatment came with significant side effects, fatigue, pain, soreness, just to name a few. I found that treatment side effects can create a sense of loss, loss of control over your body, and what it used to be capable of. Loss of freedom and the ability to not feel pain. Loss of energy and the stamina to partake in some of the activities I used to.

Derived from my many years of experience with cancer, here are some strategies that helped me manage the side effects, fatigue, and sense of loss that comes with cancer treatment. I hope they work for you too.

1. Stop fighting your emotions

What? Often when we are hurt, our defenses naturally go up, and we slap on a brave face. I say, bring those defenses down. Don’t put on that brave face. Feel sadness and anger over your side-effects and fatigue. Be tired, because you are, and because it is normal for cancer patients to be fatigued for years. Acknowledge that your side-effects are affecting you.

2. Rest

We try to keep ourselves busy in order to not think and feel our pain. There is nothing wrong with being productive and wanting to fill your time. But it is in the space, the silent moments, where healing can happen. Step away from the expectations of life and just ‘be.’ Your body is telling you that something’s wrong. Listen to it and rest. By healing your body, by giving it moments of rest and recuperation, you take the first steps of becoming stronger in your mind, body, and spirit.

3. Ask for help

While battling cancer, you can’t do it all. You need to come to terms with the fact that your fatigue is real and that your side-effects need to be tended to. Acknowledging that things aren’t going well is the first step in improving your situation. You are not weak because you are seeking help. Ask for help from your family, friends, partner, and/or medical professionals.

4. Surround yourself with “the good”

Have people, music, food, books, shows, or whatever uplifts and comforts you in your presence. Soothe and elevate your being. This may sound like pampering, but it’s not, it is essential to your healing. Your body has gone through some very harsh and demanding treatments. The side effects and fatigue tell you that you need more healing, more time, and more care. Take care of yourself.

5. You can’t control the storm, but you can captain your own ship

You can’t control the side-effects and fatigue as it is your body’s reaction to treatments, but you can choose a path that will honour where you are right now. Often in treatment, we get caught up focusing on how the medication is effecting us, creating negative emotions. And, while these emotions are completely valid, they can also serve to blind us to the blessings that are still in our presence. For me, simply taking the focus off of myself to send a kind text to someone, stop and feel the warmth of the sun on my body, or smile at a stranger, transformed my whole day.

Barbara is a Junior and Senior High School Arts teacher from Athabasca. In 2015, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been a part of the Compassion House community ever since.