Dealing with Fatigue from Cancer and Treatments

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Whether from radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, the cancer itself  or the stress of living with melanoma, fatigue zaps your strength and motivation. Fatigue is different than being tired. When you are tired, you know that if you can just get some sleep you will feel better, but fatigue is still there when you wake up, it stays with you all day. It is a lack of energy, a feeling of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. Some people experience fatigue throughout their treatment and even for months or years after.


    Cancer Related Fatigue


    Fatigue is a side effects of many of the treatments for cancer but often the cancer itself, the changes in your cells, the energy your body uses to fight the cancer, causes fatigue as well. This is known as cancer-related fatigue. It can appear without warning, with you suddenly having no energy to get through  your daily activities, and can last anywhere from a few days after treatment to several months.

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    Besides treatments - chemotherapy, radiation, surgery - other causes of fatigue include:


    Anemia - some people become anemic as the result of different treatments

    Combination therapy - receiving more than one treatment at the same time can result in fatigue


    Loss of appetite - some treatments cause nausea or a loss of appetite, without the proper nutrition you may feel fatigued


    Other medications - you may be taking medications for other medical conditions which, in combination with your current treatment causes fatigue or you may be taking medications to help counter some of the side effects of treatment, such as anti-nausea medication, which cause fatigue


    Stress - living with cancer is stressful and worrying about your cancer every day may make you exhausted


    Ways to Combat Fatigue


    If you find yourself too tired to get through your day, talk with your doctor. The first step may be to have some blood tests done to find out if there is an underlying reason, such as anemia, for your exhaustion. If there is not, work with your doctor to pinpoint what may be causing your fatigue. It may not be possible to point to one specific reason for your fatigue as it may be a result of several different factors but narrowing down the reasons can help you find ways to better manage the exhaustion.  


    Additional ways to combat cancer-related fatigue:


    • Talk with your doctor about what type of fatigue you can expect. Although each person reacts to cancer and treatments differently, your doctor should be able to give you some insight based on other patients. Knowing what to expect and having strategies in place before the fatigue hits is helpful.
    • Plan rest periods in your day. Take short naps (30 minutes or less) but try not to sleep too much as this also has the potential to leave you feeling drained.
    • Try to follow your normal sleep schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time you normally do and get up each morning at the same time. Staying on schedule will help keep your body regulated, changing your sleep schedule may add to your fatigue.
    • Talk to your doctor about the amount of exercise you can participate in each day. You want to stay active and plan at least a moderate amount of exercise each day without overdoing it.
    • Enlist the help of friends and family. For activities that require a lot of physical energy, ask for help. When others offer their help, give specific tasks that need to be done, for example, food shopping, running errands or doing yard work. Many people may want to help but have no idea what to do. Take advantage of their willingness to help.
    • Prioritize tasks to help save energy. Think about what you really need to get done and focus on those tasks. Don't try to "do everything." Plan strenuous activities in small chunks, with rest periods in between.


  • References:

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    "7 Ways to Manage Cancer-Related Fatigue," Last revised 2011, Sept 22, Staff Writer, American Cancer Society


    "Fatigue," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, National Cancer Institute


    "Fatigue," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas


    "Fatigue and Cancer Fatigue," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Cleveland Clinic



Published On: November 23, 2011