PUBLISHED ON: 28 August 2019

Sarah felt flat after treatment, but found ways to manage her fatigue. She shares her top five tips.

Sarah and her dad
Photo: Sarah’s dad shaved his head in solidarity after her second round of chemo.

I was diagnosed after my first breast cancer screening

I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer after getting my first breast screening invitation. I had no symptoms at all, and the idea that something sinister may be found never crossed my mind. So, when I was recalled for assessment at the breast clinic, I went into shock.

I felt numb when I heard the word ‘chemotherapy’

After surgery the doctors found cancer cells in one of my lymph nodes, so I had another operation. It was after this that they told me chemotherapy would be part of my treatment. It felt like a blow to my body. I was numb inside. I worried about the side effects, and was terrified of losing my hair.

I scared myself by googling things about breast cancer

During treatment, I wasn’t sleeping well, and anxiety meant I'd find myself googling about breast cancer in the early hours. I worried myself with survival rates and outdated statistics. What really helped me during this time was the support I gained from Breast Cancer Care’s website and Forum.

My fatigue built up gradually during treatment

By the end of chemotherapy and radiotherapy I was on my knees energy-wise, and I was struggling to stay awake during the day.

Fatigue felt like extreme waves of tiredness washing over me at regular intervals. I’d rarely wake up feeling refreshed, and everyday tasks took longer than normal. My fatigue felt worse in the afternoon.

My safety net was whipped from underneath me after treatment

I expected to feel elated after finishing my treatment, but instead I felt flat. It was as if my safety net had been whipped from underneath me. Suddenly, I had no appointments, no hospital visits and no structure to my day. It was a scary place to be.

Adding to me feeling flat were the side effects of tamoxifen. Along with a lack of energy and fatigue, aches and hot flushes became part of my ‘new normal’.

I found ways to manage fatigue, and adapt to how I felt. Here are my top five tips:

1. Pace yourself

My biggest tip for managing fatigue would be to pace yourself. If I was busy for one day, I’d find myself completely whacked the next. Accept that your body has been through so much and that you’re still recovering.

2. Give in to your fatigue

Sometimes it can help to ‘give in’ to your fatigue. Having a short nap does not mean that you’ve failed. You may have friends and family expecting everything to return to normal when you no longer look visibly ill. While well-meaning, people may even make comments like: ‘Everyone feels tired now and again’. It’s important to listen to your body.

3. Get some fresh air and exercise

I find fresh air and exercise helps to shake off the fuzziness. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of weeding in the garden or a 10-minute walk, it can make a difference.

4. Find a place that helps you relax

When I was going through chemotherapy, my garden was my sanctuary. I turned it into an allotment, which helped me to keep active when all I wanted to do was lie on the sofa and eat chocolate!

5. Let go of the guilt

It can be easy to confuse fatigue with laziness. I found myself feeling lazy for occasionally napping. And I felt guilty for not being able to ‘bounce back’ to the person I was before cancer. Try and let go of any guilt you feel, because taking care of yourself is not self-indulgent.

After treatment, I slowly learnt that I needed to find my ‘new normal’, and that this would be a very different kind to the one I knew before.

Find more hints and tips for living well after treatment in our free app BECCA:

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