by  Susie Merz

One aspect of having a cancer diagnosis, which doesn’t always get addressed, is how tiring the whole ordeal is. I feel like I have been weary for years, literally, including the time before diagnosis of feeling fatigued and not knowing why, plus treatment time and recovery from treatment. It's coming up to three years since I finished treatment, and I have to say that I am tired of being tired!

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Ongoing fatigue is that grey area between being really sick and being fully well. It makes it difficult to plan things too far ahead, because of the unpredictability of whether or not I will have enough energy for the activity when the day arrives. Fatigue can also contribute to feeling isolated, when it means having to stay home from events in order to rest. Or I look at what people around me are doing and feel like an underachiever, knowing that I do not have the energy to live life at the pace many others do.

A woman named Christine Miserandino has lupus and developed something called The Spoon Theory, as a way of talking about fatigue. She was explaining to a friend that she feels like she has a certain number of "spoons" (which just happened to be the utensil on hand to make her point) per day or per week, and every task or activity of daily life costs a spoon. From day to day then, people experiencing ongoing fatigue from cancer or any other illness might wonder things like, "Do I have enough spoons to go to work and go to yoga class in the evening? If I use up spoons to go out with friends today, will I still have enough to do my laundry and clean up at home tomorrow?" Or on some days, for some people, "Do I have enough spoons to shower and make meals for the day?"

Thinking of "spoons" rather than tiredness helps me do a bit less grumbling to myself about how tired I am. Rather, I can consider how many spoons I have, or have left, and do the best I can with plans for the day or week. I do hope that my fatigue will continue to lessen over time. In the meantime, I am honouring what I need, which is often simply to rest.


Susie Merz first came to Callanish as a retreat participant in 2015 and has since joined the staff team as a clinical counsellor. She has worked as a therapist for over 14 years, both in nonprofit agencies and in her own counselling practice.