Controlling Cancer Related Fatigue

Anyone who has gone through cancer treatment will tell you it’s not easy.  Side effects can range from nausea, hair loss to a dry mouth.  But a common side effect experienced by practically all cancer patients is extreme fatigue.  Every cancer patient will have their own unique way of describing it -  exhausted, wiped out, weak, lack of concentration, drained, faint, and weary.

Fatigue related to cancer not only affects energy levels but also spills over into accomplishing everyday activities and maintaining a positive outlook.  How long it lasts depends on the type of cancer, what treatments are given and overall health and well-being.  Even after the cancer has gone in remission, up to one third of cancer survivors may still suffer from fatigue months to even years after treatments are done.

Causes of fatigue

·         Infection

·         Pain

·         Anemia

·         Not eating enough or eating a poor diet

·         Chemotherapy treatment

·         Radiation treatment

·         Medications

·         Conditions like low thyroid and low blood pressure

 How to gain control over fatigue

 A cancer patient may not have complete control over fatigue but there are steps they can take to better manage it. One of the first things to do is to talk to and tell their doctor or nurse of their symptoms related to fatigue.  Rating fatigue on a scale of zero to ten, with zero meaning no fatigue to ten meaning complete lack of energy, will give the medical team an idea of how bad the fatigue is.  Become aware if there are certain activities, time of day, emotions associated with it such as sadness or anxiety, and if it is affecting participation in pleasurable activities.

 Here are some ideas to not let cancer-related fatigue overcome day to day living:

 ·         Try to exercise everyday such as taking a daily walk.  Too much inactivity can actually lead to more tiredness. Low to moderate amounts of exercise actually reduces fatigue and helps keep a person in better physical condition.

·         Throughout the day, take brief periodic rests such as taking a 15-20 minute nap. Plan them either late morning or early afternoon so as not to interfere with sleeping at night.

·         Establish a regular bedtime routine by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.

·         Avoid drinking stimulants such as caffeine or alcohol right before bedtime.  This will also reduce having to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.  Try relaxing by reading a book or listening to music.

·         Seek out help with chores such as mowing the lawn, housecleaning, etc. from family, friends, or community organizations that provide such services.

·         Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.  The body needs energy to heal and function.  Small, frequent meals providing adequate protein and calories and drinking enough fluids during the day can be a big boost in feeling more energetic.  Ask to be referred to a registered dietitian who can develop a healthy eating plan.

·         Schedule must-do activities according to when energy levels are the highest during the day.

·         Be organized by avoiding multiple trips up and down stairs or sitting instead of standing to do a task.

·         Pace yourself to use less energy and take frequent rest breaks.

·         Stress, worry, anxiety or sadness contribute to fatigue.  Make time for activities you enjoy, practice meditation, prayer, humor, yoga, or seek counseling or join a support group to learn methods of dealing with emotions. 

Taking ultimate care of oneself during cancer is not being selfish or narcissistic.  Cancer is a serious medical condition and now is the time to take time of oneself including beating back fatigue preventing it from overtaking one’s life.