Cancer and Fatigue

cancer fatigue tiredness


Cancer patients often suffer with fatigue, hormone fluctuations and joint pain (particularly if they’re on certain medication for years after treatment). These factors make it much more difficult to feel excited and positive about life, especially if they have to return to work and they have absolutely no energy. This can become another problem as the care and understanding from friends, family and employers that may have been present during the active treatment phase may have been withdrawn. So you’re left with very little energy to just ‘get on with it.’

Fatigue is one of the most commonly reported cancer symptoms, and causes the most interference with the daily lives of patients (research shoes that it affects between 70% to 80% of those affected). Levels of fatigue can vary greatly depending on the type of treatment the patient receives and the stage of treatment someone is at. Fatigue can seriously affect your ability to work, manage your house, look after relatives and solve every day problems.

As you may have experienced, cancer fatigue is very different from everyday fatigue. With everyday fatigue, tiredness is usually short-term and you feel better after you stop and rest. Fatigue for people with cancer can be very different. Even if you rest, the fatigue can feel like its never-ending and can go on for weeks, months or years after treatment. You may develop chronic fatigue, which can feel like it’s never going to go away. Most cancer patients find that fatigue subsides between 6 months to a year after treatment. Often medical professionals or hospitals may not understand just how badly you are affected by fatigue. This may lead you to feel that you’ve been left to cope alone.

Aspects of daily life that are affected by fatigue

*Activities with children
*Caring responsibilities
*Socialising/seeing friends

If your daily routine is affected, you may not feel like seeing other people, which can lead to depressive symptoms. You might have to drop from full-time employment to part-time which can have a serious effect on your finances. The fatigue can be a constant reminder that you’ve had cancer, and you might worry that the cancer is getting worse or coming back if you’re in remission. More that likely, the illness is causing the fatigue or it can be put down to being a side effect of treatment.

Thankfully there are many things you can do to help yourself:

  1. Tell your healthcare professionals that you have fatigue. Many patients hide it, feeling embarrassed or ashamed. Be open enough to ask for help.
  2. Remember to rest – it’s easy if you’ve been given a clean bill of health to rush back to all of the things you did before you were ill. The body needs time to recover so remember to schedule regular breaks during your day. Learning to save your energy is a great tool in combatting fatigue.
  3. Get support from others – Speaking to a counsellor can be a real help. Joining a support group can reassure you that you’re not the only one experiencing cancer related fatigue. Opening up to friends and relatives can also be a big help.
  4. Improve your diet – this may be difficult if your treatment is making you sick. Controlling diarrhoea and sickness if you’re having chemotherapy becomes a priority. Chemotherapy affects your appetite; it’s important to keep hydrated and you can make up the calories later if you’re feeling sick. Anti-sickness drugs can help. You may go off certain food and drink, such as caffeine. Please consult your doctor if you’re worried about nutrition.
  5. Save energy – taking shortcuts or getting help from others can help you conserve energy. Ask for help with housework, shopping and children. Plan your journeys so you’re not rushing and stressed. Avoid having too many buttons on your clothes to make it easier for you to dress. Try and sit down as much as you can. Put chairs around the house so you can sit down, and get handrails installed if needed.
  6. Keep a fatigue diary – keeping a record of when you’re feeling tired and when so you can see which activities are tiring you out and which give you energy can help you manage the fatigue better.
  7. Sleep – your sleep will probably be interrupted, but try and have a routine for sleeping and go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Relax before bed and don’t drink caffeine close to bedtime. Limit naps so you can sleep at night. Make sure your bedroom is an oasis of calm.

Cancer fatigue can be a real problem but if you make efforts to manage your fatigue and remember to ask for help hopefully it should become less of an issue and you can carry on enjoying your life!

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