One of the last memories I have of my grandfather was shortly after he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007. I had gone to visit him, and talked with him as my grandmother fed him scrambled eggs. During our conversation, he turned to me and said, “You have no idea how exhausting it is just to eat these eggs.”
My grandfather was experiencing what more than 98% of cancer patients experience. Fatigue. It goes beyond simply being tired….This is a whole-body, overwhelming, too-exhausted-to-eat-scrambled-eggs kind of fatigue.
Most people believe that there is no hope in overcoming this fatigue. It simply becomes a way of life for them. They mistakenly believe that if they are feeling thattired, the only logical thing to do is to take a nap.
And so, these individuals become mostly sedentary. Living life on the sidelines, rather than actively participating.
Because, you see, research demonstrates that the more you rest, the more fatigued you get.
This goes against what we think. It makes sense to us that when someone is tired, they should rest.
This is probably why, nationally, less than 5% of cancer patients exercise. If 98% of patients experience fatigue, then it would make sense for a relatively equal number of people to remain sedentary during treatment.
However, research overwhelmingly points to a strong link between exercise and decreased fatigue during cancer treatment. In fact, our own patients at Maple Tree experienced a 78% reduction in their fatigue levels when they exercised with us!
One of the reasons we promote individualized exercise at Maple Tree is because this enables us to meet a person exactly where they are and design a program of exercise that meets their specific needs. When someone is battling severe fatigue, we can customize their workout to improve their energy levels significantly. And it might not be in the way you would think! When my grandfather experienced fatigue so significant that it made it difficult for him to eat scrambled eggs, it was obvious that he couldn’t drive to a fitness center to exercise. But that didn’t mean that he couldn’t do anything! My suggestion to him was that every hour on the hour, he get up out of bed and walk one lap around the downstairs of his home. Then go back to bed.
To someone on the outside looking in, this would have looked like nothing. They probably would have wondered why we would even bother.
Yet, to my grandfather, this was everything! It improved his energy levels, it improved his mood, and it gave him a sense of control over his life – which was seemingly spinning out of control at the time.
When it comes to cancer-related fatigue, exercise can do wonders to improve your energy levels! Even if all you are able to do is walk one lap around the downstairs of your house, start there and build from that!
Something is always better than nothing! You can do this!