Lethargy: The Unwanted, Uninvited “Friend” That Accompanies Radiation Therapy

The unwanted and uninvited acquaintance that wants to dominate your life and your healing  journey

imageIt anything has sapped the energy of life and responding to the spontaneous pull of living life moment by moment, it is the appearance of the state of lethargy that comes creeping along several weeks after the initiation of radiation therapy, and becomes the “interfering acquaintance”, like that unwanted blood relative that just won’t leave and continues to drain energy from your being, even if all you do is mention them by name. As soon as someone begins to mention that “distant relative” you quickly hush them up and place that forefinger across your lips and look sternly at them, speaking without words but clearly stating “Don’t you dare speak of them!” That describes for me my connection and “relationship” with lethargy.

imageThe dictionary describes lethargy as “a pathological state of sleepiness or deep unresponsiveness and inactivity.” (1) The word is a noun that describes a “lack of energy and enthusiasm” with “periods of weakness and lethargy.” The synonyms for this word describes it essence further: sluggishness, inertia, inactivity, inaction, slowness, torpor, torpidity, lifelessness, listlessness, languor, laziness, idleness, indolence, shiftlessness, sloth, apathy, passivity, weariness, tiredness, lassitude, fatigue, inanition.  When compounded by the experience of radiation therapy, you can well understand this “state of being” as a side effect of the treatment, as most of us who have had to endure radiation therapy, have had that lack of energy, tiredness, sleepiness, insomnia, loss of appetite, and no driver to accomplish even the smallest task. The most understated statement made by a medical professional explaining to you the side effects of radiation therapy are the words: “The lethargy may be related to your radiation treatments and their cumulative effect on your body over the time of ongoing treatments.” Yep, that is surely the greatest understatement for cancer patients to hear as the get their minds focused on their healing journey, and the necessity of undergoing radiation therapy.

My journey in radiation therapy is a family journey

imageWhen I started this radiation therapy on 21 January 2016, I really had no idea what I was entering into. I well remember when my first born daughter underwent cranial radiation when she battled A.L.L. leukemia and how difficult it was on her over the years. She was initially two and half years old when she underwent the radiation therapy at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. When she died at nine and half years, I wanted to put that ordeal behind me. I do not have a day that passes by where I do not think of my beloved Carragh. I miss her terribly. I never pondered or thought very much about cancer, or the treatments, until this past fall when I was diagnosed with this rare, unknown hybrid cancerous tumor that grew out of my chest. Until then it was out of sight and out of mind. I rarely thought of the disease that has become a modern day epidemic, where 1 in 3 Canadians are affected either indirectly or directly by cancer. I have had the bobble whammy. I was affected indirectly through my daughter’s battle with leukemia, and I was affected directly by my own diagnosis and radical mastectomy and now radiation therapy.  One thing you end up realizing is that a diagnosis of cancer not only affects the person diagnosed. It affects the entire family. Cancer is literally a “family disease.” My wife and I and our other daughters were all affected by Carragh’s battle with cancer. It is no different today. My wife Lori, and my girls Caitlin, Erinn, Alex and Stephen (sons-in-law) are all affected by this cancer battle. To another degree, my journey in this battle has also reached my extended family, my good friends, and my coworkers at my place of work, as well as my church family. What has affected me, has affected my relational, familial, professional and social relationships. No one in my circle is untouched.

I decided long ago that this battle would be a very public rather than isolated and private

wp-1456238270973.jpgI tend to live my life as an open book. I am what you see, and what you see is what you get. I have been on social media for a long time.  I started web sites to and blogging in the early 90’s with the advent of the Internet. I have lived my life online and written and posted a lot of thoughts and insights and opinion pieces, theological and philosophical discourses. What I think gets posted on my blog, on my Facebook and Twitter feed. So this cancer battle was not going to be hidden and private. It was going to be lived out in the open and public. I would write about it as I was going through it and I wanted that approach to remain, even if I had interruptions along the way. But I never expected this “state of lethargy” to invade my diary to day life as it has the last three weeks.

I have struggled mightily with keeping a focus point for extended periods of time. 

imageI found the most basic of tasks like writing emails can wipe me out.  My greatest achievement during the last three weeks was being able to write three email in forty five minutes.  I have been able to write short social media updates and little else.  I cannot write extensive blog posts in one sitting. This is my first attempt in one one go, where I have been able to write, but this is because of the insomnia tha is the result from the lethargy induced from the radiation therapy.

imageThe effects of lethargy means that I tire easily. I become sleepy, but cannot sleep. I have a weird expression of insomnia. I will go bed early enough, sleep no problem, and then like and inner alarm clock, I awaken at 3:30 am and cannot get back to sleep. I have learned from this.  I get up and get cleaned up to face my day. I pray, do some reading, and do some writing, I get breakfast, and then go to the radiation clinic for my treatment. Then I come back to the lodge, and in the afternoon, I take a short nap, up to one hour, and then have supper.

imageI have spoken to many others both at the radiation clinic and at the Princess Margaret Lodge, and they all voice similar side effects. It is rather nice today that I can write this blog post in one go. Coming to terms with how to adapt to this lethargy. I realize that I cannot be hard on myself, and that I need to listen to my body, and take naps when I need to have a nap, so that I can get through my day as best as possible. To date my appetite has not been affected much. My energy levels, and tiredness, sleepiness, insomnia, are what has manifested as a result of radiation therapy.  I know what to do and I will do what needs to be done.

Remain in the moment and live one moment at a time

wp-1456238285520.jpgIf you are going through radiation,  you know your own body, and you just need to listen to your body. If you need rest, then take the time to rest. If you cannot focus, reduce tasks to manageable segments to be accomplished, take a rest, and go back and finish the task. Don’t be hard on yourself. This too shall pass. The side effects of this kind will wear off four weeks to six weeks after your complete your radiation therapy regimen. Don’t let lethargy rob you of living your life to the max, one time segment at a time. Enjoy the moment and celebrate the achievement of each radiation therapy session you undergo. It means you are one more treatment closer to finishing this part of your healing journey. Don’t ever give up. Keep persevering.

imageLethargy is an unwanted acquaintance. You cannot remove it, but you can reduce its impact and power over your life. Like that unwanted distant relative, manage it, moment by moment, and don’t let it dominate your life..


~ Sam Buick

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(1) Google Search


About Sam Buick

A lover and disciple of Jesus Christ. Married to my best friend, Lori-Anne. Father to 3 incredible daughters, Carragh, Caitlin and Erinn, and sons-in-law Alex, and Stephen Davis. An avid reader, a Droid user, a Mac addict, a lover of footy ball and football (there is a difference), and hockey. Once a soldier. Once a youth worker. Once an ordained minister. Once a claims adjuster. I don’t mind labels, labels define what type of Christian I am: I am a creationist I am a monergist I am a Trinitarian I am an imputationalist I am a Calvinist I am a cessationist ~ Samuel M. Buick
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