It’s A New Day…Almost!

Well, I’m half way done with radiation!  It’s kicked my butt these last two weeks.  I’d been advised prior to radiation that I would feel fatigued but that it was a fatigue that could be worked through with activity.   Activity?  “Oh.  I’ve got that covered!” I mused.  Come with me!

“What is your method of physical conditioning?” Dr. Montravadi asked me at my first exam. “Conditioning,” I thought. We talkin’ ten years ago?  Three?  Before surgery?  His question took me by surprise.  “What, this gut roll hiding my abs?” I want to crack back.  But I didn’t.  He’s was so sincere.

My exercise workout prior to my diagnosis had been 60 minutes of running, cycling, walking, and sweating.  I was working to get back to “40” before I turned “50”. I’d been hot. Can’t stress “had been” strongly enough. Thought I’d give myself a year to get ready for my Big Reveal! Dr. M was sympathetic to my response. “Oh, it happens to all of us,” I think he said. He was kind. “Keep it up. The Y is excellent.”

Once I’d learned that I had breast cancer I began to push myself harder during my workouts.  Strenuous physical activity was one of my ways of processing all that was ahead of me.  “I will do what I can as long as I can,” was my mantra.  It was my way of preempting headaches and nausea.  Two days after surgery I started back on the cross-trainer machine.  One week post surgery I managed to “run” a whole minute on the treadmill!  My goal after the first :30 was to try and add another :30 onto that before I needed to grab both breasts firmly and press then against my chest.   Didn’t try that again for another week; but hey, I’d taken my first step back!  I felt strong and healthy as I bound up my girls in a tight sport bra and started pushing my body back to health.  I’d breathe deep and determined with each stroke, each stride.  Carol Huntley, my surgeon’s nurse and confidante told me not to baby myself or my body.  “Move,” she championed!  As much out of my anxiety as my pain killer enduced haze, I followed orders. I felt myself growing more and more confident.

So. Radiation? Really? You don’t scare me. Bring it!

Or not…After 13 treatments I’m too pooped to move.  I can barely drag my body out of bed by 6AM.  I feel like I’m stuck in cement.  Exactly what kind of activity am I supposed to be engaging in to work out the fatigue?  Exercise? My treadmill work has recently been replaced with stationary cycling and the cross trainer. I focus on minutes more than distance. And when I’m really whipped I walk the indoor track. I imagine all the radiation leaving my body with each drip of sweat that trickles between my butt cheeks. “Ya,” I think, “radiation can kiss my ass!” Then I get to my car and will my eyes to stay open through my drive home. I’ve got bottled water everywhere I turn to help me stay hydrated. I look at myself in my rearview mirror. “Fatigue?” I ask, starring down my reflection. “Bwing id,” I say unconvincingly, my tongue sticking to da woof ub my mowf.

Manual labor? I learned too late that mowing the yard and picking up leaves was too much activity.  Did wonders for my spirits, but the full bags of leaves and grass clippings were way heavier than ten pounds, my maximum lifting limit post surgery. Within a few hours after the exhilerating work the top of my arm started to swell and scream in pain. Oops! Didn’t Dr. M tell me I had no restrictions? Didn’t he know I’d tear up the yard? Apparently not.

Full-time work? How physically demanding can juggling meetings, creating proposals, and researching solutions be? It’s stressful mental activity that can’t be avoided. But it’s done sitting down, online, on the phone.  Wouldn’t call that activity, really. But even that gets to me after several weeks of radiation treatments.  What I experience after “living” from 10AM to 3PM is a breast that burns like it’s an open wound under a heavy, salted, hot hand. I drink a couple of gallons of water throughout the day hoping to extinguish the internal fire raging in my chest. But it doesn’t help. By the time my daughter’s swim practice rolls around, I’m glassy eyed and nearly gone. The thirty minute drive to and from practice is physically draining. My arms and legs twitch uncontrollably. I pray I make it home without incident. To help me deal with the fatigue Don picks up the drive home from swim team, which is a blessing because I’ve fallen asleep on the couch by 7PM.

So how am I supposed to work through the fatigue?  Well…There is one activity that I have found beats it off.  Sex.  Forty-five minutes of fun, intimate carnal knowledge (with a partner) pretty much seems to send the fatigue packing.  When I factor in the peaceful quarter hour snooze that follows I feel I’m getting my 60 minute aerobic activity for the day – with an extended cool down.  But who can do that more than four times a week?  Newlyweds maybe, but  Don and I are eyeballing 50!   We’ve experienced our heyday.  Four times a week is plenty! And according to Dr. Ruth on this morning’s news interview with Harry Smith (saw it with a roomful of old men who seemed to be particularly interested and nervous about what ol’ Ruthie had to say) sex doesn’t have to be unsatisfactory as we age.  I think I blushed listening to the exchange….Nah, I’m just teasing you. I didn’t blush!  But I did experience an “Ah-hah!” moment as I sat amidst the AARP crowd:  Special, fun, meaningful activity is what will get you through radiation’s fatigue.  It gets you through with your dignity and sense of humor in tact…and love by your side!   “Bring It!”