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Fatigue, Chemo & Determination

It’s mid-summer here in Vegas and the peak temperatures are reaching 113°. That kind of heat is pretty bad for anyone, but for a cancer patient, it’s REALLY tough.

Cancer treatment – especially for triple-negative metastatic stage 4 breast cancer like mine – causes severe, unpredictable fatigue. From January to around March, I was suffering some pretty severe fatigue. I could function something like a normal person a few hours a day – the problem was trying to plan for what hours or what day. It was completely unpredictable.

More recently, my oncologist was concerned over the nerve damage in my extremities (neropathy) caused by the nastier chemotherapy  drugs that I have been taking. So at present, I am on a “chemo vacation” for a little while to help limit the nerve damage in my feet. I am currently on just Avastin until we have the results from my upcoming PET and bone scan as far as my tumors are concerned.

Chemotherapy also causes a debilitating condition colloquially known as “chemo brain.” Chemotherapy kill not just the cancer cells, it kills some of the healthy cells in the body as well. There is also some subtle, temporary neurological damage. So the cancer patient ends up with a nasty sense brain fog as as well as the severe, unpredictable fatigue.

Chemo brain seriously messes with one’s own awareness of how and when to take care of oneself. I have a friend who helps take care of me by asking me when it was I last ate a meal, or drank enough liquid to avoid dehydration or had enough sleep.

My body is still reacting as if I’m still going through the tougher chemo, though there has been a slight improvement in recent weeks. I have a few hours of functionality every day when I wake up. Sometimes I have a low level of low, semi-constant energy to do things slowly and methodically. Sometimes I have a short burst of energy that somewhat resembles the hyper-creative level that used to be my normal level of functioning. At those times I must remember to conserve that energy as much as possible. If I don’t, I end up with a crash that feels just like someone who was up for a straight 72 hours and then drank a gallon of coffee. Extremely frantic and extremely tired at the same time.

I am constantly compelled to always try to do some organizing every day. I try to do some housework and I try to accomplish computer and graphics work as much as I possibly can. I get pretty upset if I am way too fatigued or brain-fogged to do anything except to sleep or stare at some Discovery Channel show. I WANT to work. I WANT to accomplish things. It’s upsetting to me that can never put in a proud 8 hours per day of work and build a better future.

So I must do what I can for management of the fatigue and the “chemo brain”. Now that I am off of the nastier chemo drugs for awhile, I find I can function OK if can do some intense things like shopping and errands one day and plan on resting the next day.

Another way to manage the fatigue is to really watch what I eat. For some reason, if I have a meal consisting of some chunk of a land animal, I feel a lot more brain-fogged the next day. I have no idea why. If I eat seafood or a lot of vegetables, I can function a little better the next day. I also have found out that if I eat high-fat foods such as anything deep-fried, the next day I pay the price bigtime with intense, intestinal pain. So now I am on a low-fat semi-vegetarian diet with just fish for animal-based protein.

Worrying about my health means getting more anxiety and insomnia than I can handle. So my oncologist gave me Xanax to deal with the anxiety. Taking a whole Xanax pill in the morning turned me into a completely brain-fogged zombie. So I tried taking it at night to handle my insomnia. That worked, but the next day I would end up as a half-zombie. I finally found a winning combination with taking half a Xanax and a melatonin tablet at night. Despite having a broken down bed that hurts me when I sleep (damn is it painful to get up in the morning!) I can now finally get enough sleep to at least get by.

Working on the jumpgate pins web page as well as this blog takes a level of energy and clear cognitive thinking that is a bit hard to achieve on a consistent basis. It is like if my brain were a five-story building and doing the Pin work meant I had to be able to work as high as the 5th floor.

I’ve been consistently existing at most on the second or third floor. It’s hard on my poor chemo-affected brain when the goal is for me to get enough energy try to reach the fifth floor of functioning when I normally exist on the second or third floor on a daily basis.

In order to reach the fifth floor in order to do concentrated work, I have to remember to eat right, remember to drink enough fluids, remember to take my sleep meds early enough and to schedule a full day of rest first. Then I get to have a few hours the next day of being able to use my higher brain functions for things like writing this blog post and working with the pin inventory.

So one day I might do errands out of the heat in the morning. Then I have some rest and maybe later that afternoon, I will actually be able to force my brain up a notch enough to take care of my own basic needs. The next day I stay home, rest and see if I can reach that metaphorical fifth floor for things like working on Pins and the website.

Just gotta keep trying. That’s what it’s all about.

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