Fatigue is breast cancer patients' frequent post-treatment companion
Miami Herald writer and online producer Andrea Torres is chronicling her breast-cancer experiences in Tropical Life.
04/24/2012 5:00 AM
05/06/2013 6:04 PM
A six-month trip to breast-cancer treatment country has left me with jet lag.
I’m sleepy most of the time. I’m not endangering anyone on the road, but I am annoying a few drivers. I apologize to those who have had to honk their horns to rouse me. I like to close my eyes when I’m stuck in traffic.
Last week, the elevator door opened and a co-worker discovered that I like to snooze for the few seconds it takes to get to my floor.
I’m not upset about it; I’m just doing my best to accept the situation while it lasts. Post-treatment fatigue is well-documented, and generally fades with time.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology found that almost one-third of breast cancer patients had cancer-related fatigue at the end of treatment. Six months later, about 10 percent said they were still experiencing fatigue, and about six percent continued to have symptoms a year after treatment.
The study’s findings were based on 218 women who were treated for early-stage breast cancer with surgery and some type of preventive therapy, usually radiation, chemotherapy or both.
I was treated for stage IIIA breast cancer with chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and radiation, which ended three months ago. My oncologist put me on Tamoxifen and Prolia, and though I worried about taking them, I haven’t had any serious side effects from either drug. Feeling tired most of the time has been the most bothersome issue.
At first I thought it was psychological because fatigue often accompanies depression. But I’ve been responding to the antidepressant medication and cognitive therapy I’ve received at University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Courtelis Center For Psychosocial Oncology. I’m still not used to the surgery scars, and my breast implants feel foreign, but I don’t cry about it anymore. On the days I care, I use sweaters or jackets to hide them.
Diet and exercise can affect energy levels. I’ve been walking for fitness, but running is out of the question because I get dizzy. I avoid caffeine because the drop from the high isn’t worth it. I only eat chicken, not beef, pork or fish, so I’ve been taking Omega-3s and other supplements and drinking the bottles of wheat-grass juice my mom buys me. They’re labeled “clean green energy.” I hope the claim is true.
When I went out to dinner recently with a guy I’d met, it was clear that I was sleepy and wanted to go home. After dropping me off, he sent me a text message: “I will be praying to Hypnos [the Greek god of sleep] to grant you the power of sleeping with your eyes open, so you can pretend to be interested in what I am saying.”
I laughed and responded: “Let’s hope the god answers your prayers.”
Part 8: Facing my fears after mastectomy
Part 11: Radiation therapy gives her hope
Part 12: Finding strength from others
Part 14: A new outlook on 2012
Part 17: After radiation therapy ends
Part 21: Too much fear, too little trust
Part 26: High hope for new drug
Part 27: Religion is an unavoidable topic
Part 28: Treatment changes social life
From the Editor: Journalist confronts cancer, takes readers along
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