The Cancer Journals: The Energy Crisis

This week, Sheelagh opens up about facing the fatigue of treatment. Read on to follow along with her on her road to healing.


“You and what army?” patients would often say to me as a nurse when I announced I was going to assist them out of bed.

I’ve never been what you would call a physically imposing woman, standing only 5″3 and weighing in anywhere from 99 to 120 lbs. over the years, most of that being bosom (thanks Mum). But I’ve always had surprising physical strength for my size and a sheer bloody mindedness about doing the physical labour myself.

I worked orthopedic nursing for 14 years and hauled, shifted and frequently supported double my own weight on a regular basis. Plus I put out plenty of energy and vitality when I speak, perhaps over eager to convey my thoughts to others.

So imagine my surprise when the chemo fatigue factor struck. “Fatigue like you’ve never experienced it,” they had said at Cancer Clinic Orientation.

Not me. I’m a little self-generating powerhouse.

“I’m tired,” I might have said pre-chemo and I would have had a day’s worth of achievements to back it up.

But this is a different sort of fatigue. It’s just soul sucking. A product of nothing. It sweeps over me like a wave and pulls me down into some deep, disorientating pool of weariness. I want to lie down and I don’t care if I ever get up. Breathing seems like an effort. My own body is an impediment. I wish I could shed it. It feels burnt out, empty inside. A heavy sarcophagus.

I lack the basic energy to converse; I stall halfway through my session with my psychologist and have to admit to her that I have lost the energy to continue. She kindly fetches me tea.

I’m so submerged in weariness that I can’t sleep. Its 4:00 a.m. and I stare blankly at the wall.

There is no medication to prevent this. It’s just part of the chemotherapy trade off. It will choose it’s own time to strike and it’s own time to pass. I am the puppet not the puppeteer. But I can wait it out. My pool of resilience is unlimited.

“How’ve you been today?” I’ll be asked.

“I’m a little tired,” I will reply.

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