The strength to go on

February 14, 2010 

One side effect of chemotherapy that doesn't get talked about much is fatigue and how the drugs can sap your strength.

I generally avoided the nausea during chemo - the most-anticipated side effect - thanks to various drugs that help mitigate that. I went through some of the unpleasantries that often accompany chemo, fun things like insomnia, constipation, dry mouth, peripheral neuropathy and a loss of white blood cells that trashed my immune system.

All of these were either temporary (a day or two during each chemo cycle) or could be dealt with using additional prescription or over-the-counter drugs. But the extreme fatigue I felt could not.

I noticed this right away after my first chemo. I slept nearly the entire day afterward. Part of this had to have been the fact that I'd had surgery to install a medi-port the day before my first chemo treatment, which ended up lasting 12 hours. My legs felt like lead, and it was often difficult to drag myself around the house or office. This lethargic feeling lasted about 10 days each time (as did most side effects) before I felt like I was getting a bit stronger.

I asked my chemo nurse about this and suggested that perhaps I should try using an exercise bike or take in some vigorous fitness walking. She wanted me to do neither during my treatments, as she didn't want anything to potentially interfere with the drugs that were battling the tumors that had invaded my body.

After my final treatment March 31, 2009, I had to wait for a month to make sure the chemo drugs had finished all their work, so my wife, daughter and I packed up the car and took a well-earned long weekend on the Oregon coast. I love walking on the beach, but that first day, I walked maybe a quarter mile before I ran out of steam and headed back to the motel. The second day, I made it a little farther. By the third day, I was able to walk for 45 minutes without much issue.

It quickly became evident that I needed to work on getting my energy back.

About that time, I found out about the Cancer WellFit class, a joint program put on by the Tri-Cities Cancer Center and the Tri-City Court Club. Here's how it works: Cancer patients and survivors get a free temporary membership to the Tri-City Court Club during the class so they can have access to Club Max, a circuit-training program that combines resistance training and cardiovascular exercise. During the twice-weekly class, personal trainers are there to help us with the equipment, to answer questions about issues we might be having and, most importantly, to encourage us. The trainers understand what we deal with, as many have been touched by cancer.

The results are pretty amazing. In my first class, two of the people were in wheelchairs and one was using a walker. One of those in a wheelchair stuck with the class through the 12 weeks. Soon enough, he stopped using the chair and was filled with strength and vigor by the time the class completed.

My results were less dramatic - but not much. That first class started in June, and I had trouble dragging myself up the stairs to Club Max. At the end of the 12 weeks, I signed up to attend the class a second time, which lasted through November. At the end of that, I signed up for a regular membership and now hit Club Max three times per week. I am able to walk five miles without a problem and have energy I haven't felt in years.

When I started chemotherapy in December 2008, I thought my world was ending. Now, thanks to the Tri-Cities Cancer Center and the Tri-City Court Club, my future is brighter than it has in ages.

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