Raising Your Energy Level (and adding spoons!)

by Jennifer AnandJanuary 28, 2019View more posts from Jennifer Anand

Meet Jen Anand. Every week Jen will be providing a new tip or two on approaching life during and after cancer to help inspire others. Jen was diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January 2012, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments for 8 months. Jen is now a survivor and just celebrated her 5 year anniversary this year as cancer free!

Have you ever heard of the spoon theory? Look it up- it’s incredible. It’s a simplified way of telling the non-cancer world that we have limited time and energy to spend with them as even the simplest daily tasks like a shower will use up our finite number of spoons. I had breakfast with a 26-yr. old friend last week, who has several chronic illnesses. We were commiserating on our lack of spoons, and how tricky that’s made our lives.

Any nearby diner would have thought we were two 80-yr old women having breakfast, not two young adults who should be in the prime health of their lives.

I thought my energy would increase once I was off treatment. Unfortunately, due to the lack of high-dose-steroids, I find my energy has actually plummeted. It’s so unpredictable to see what my energy will be. Maybe today I’ll wake up doing great, and accomplish everything I need to, and life is awesome. Maybe tomorrow I can barely make it out of bed, and my body screams in pain and tiredness. I won’t be able to make it to lunch without a nap.

I recently had some online posts on others who have trouble leaving the house, and it made me really sad. I know a lot of non-cancer people think everything’s hunky dory after treatment, but that’s not always the case. Your body rallied and is fighting/fought cancer. And now it’s tired.

Here are 4 tips for raising your energy levels and increasing the number of spoons:

Rest: After cancer I wanted to do something. I wanted to make up for lost time. I didn’t allow myself the time my body needed to rest after its horrible ordeal. Take the time for yourself.

Exercise: I’ve heard this from a number of people. Mild exercise helps your body get back on track. I took a karate class right after my first cancer. I had poor reflex and tripped over my own feet all the time. I found the karate class helped me regain my sense of balance and helped me be able to just walk better! It helped increase my energy, confidence, and gave me a sense that just like Po, I too could fight off any dragons.

Friends: We all have friends who have offered to help us out. Maybe you’re like me, and too proud to accept their offers. Cancer is humbling- accept their help. Maybe it’s carrying your books at school, or coming and cleaning your house, or even just bringing by dinner. That’s one less thing you have to do, one more spoon you can dedicate somewhere else.

Readjust expectations: This is probably the hardest thing for me. Ever. But this is what my dear nurse kept telling me. It seems like such a simple phrase. Life post-cancer is not what I had pictured, expected, or hoped. It’s crazy hard. But I need to celebrate the little things. The fact that I cleaned my room and the kitchen. I completed my work and hung out with friends. I took a walk and did an exercise video. Some days I just want to curl into a ball and cry. I hired on with three other newly graduated engineers at my job. And I feel like they’re making it. They’re keeping up with the visits and the travel and the reports. And me? I’m over here barely hanging on. I do a visit then crash for a nap in my hotel room before I begin my report. I drive to another city then need a nap before I can catch up on my emails. I walk my plant all morning then am ready to collapse by lunch time. Many days I wake up wondering if I’ll be able to go on as a functioning adult because sometimes this low-energy life really, really sucks.

The good news is none of us are alone. A co-worker with cancer, and a few similarly aged friends have echoed the same low-energy struggles. And they’re plodding through. They’ve told me about their good days and bad. This article is just as much for me as it is for you. Maybe one of these tips helps you a lot and your life suddenly becomes loads easier.

I highly doubt that, but I wish you the best. But more importantly, if you’re struggling with not having enough spoons, I hope you realize that I am too.