In mid-July, I went for my regular MRI check-up. I’ve been going to ballet classes and my balance, memory, spatial awareness and timing all feel like they have been improving. My migraines continue to ebb and flow, but of course I have my bag of tricks for stopping, dulling, or just plain surviving migraine pain. So, while not over confident, I also wasn’t overly anxious about my impending MRI results.
And I’ll spare you any further anxiety – the MRI showed no growth! Everything does, indeed, seem to be staying where it should be. Healthy cells are growing; cancerous cells are not. Happy dances commence!
But this doesn’t mean that I am symptom free. There is one symptom that follows me like a shadow and to which I am completely vulnerable. While my only treatment has been surgery – and that was over two years ago – I have been dealing with the lingering symptom of fatigue. This, too, ebbs and flows, but there’s never a time when I feel like I have as much energy as I did pre-surgery. And the problem with fatigue is that even when you rest, you don’t feel refreshed – you’re still just as exhausted as you were.
I’ve posted this video by Dr. Mike Evans before, and I’m going to do it again, because I think it does such a good job explaining fatigue. Not only what it is, but also it’s prevalence among cancer patients/survivors in general and steps to take to manage it as much as possible.
I have talked with other survivors and support group leaders about management from a diet, rest, exercise perspective. I have planned and prioritized my schedule, adjusting my habits to suit my energy levels. Yet there are still times when no amount of sleep is refreshing and I feel so tired that I can’t perform normal, adult, everyday functions – grocery shopping, cooking, dishwashing, laundry. As a young adult living alone, this can become a bit of a problem. I admit that I’m slightly prone to hyperbole, but in these days (or weeks) when I’m at the mercy of my fatigue, I feel as though I’m held hostage in a pit of lost things, completely unable to move my body from my couch or bed, surrounded by clutter. I’m constantly wishing I could just unplug the top of my head – brain, eyes, and all – set them into a charger, and replace them with a new fully charged set.
I often try to make adjustments to my habits and behavior before turning to drugs. But these dips in energy prevent me from getting basic life necessities done. This recent doctor’s appointment happened to fall on an exhausting week, which reminded me (in no uncertain terms) to bring it up. In talking with my Oncologist and oncology Fellow, it sounded like there are currently only two options. The first was stimulants. But personally, I’d rather try to treat the problem than just the symptom. My oncologist explained that brain surgery sometimes throws off the chemical balance of the brain which leads to fatigue, so antidepressants may help re-balance. And those seem to be the only choices available.
So, if any drug developers are out there and ready to fulfill some wishes – I would absolutely love for you to solve this puzzle of fatigue. The gift of a refreshing nights sleep, providing focus and energy to live a stimulant free, chore-filled, friend-filled life would be more than I could ever hope for. (My childhood self can’t believe I’m wishing to vacuum, but I am!)