Coping with Cancer Fatigue

Mental health

Cancer survivors are usually elated when they get the ‘all clear’ diagnosis. Rightly so, they have been through months if not years of treatment and uncertainty of not knowing what is around the corner for them and their family. However, the celebrations can be short-lived. Instead of returning to their old selves as they expect, they can be plagued with debilitating fatigue. Without assistance, the fatigue can turn into depression as life isn’t as good as they hoped it would be after treatment.

What is cancer fatigue?

Cancer fatigue is the feeling of tiredness and lack of energy cancer patients and survivors feel during and after treatment. Most fatigue disappears between six and 12 months following treatment however it can go on for years. Fatigue can come on at any time and may not disappear with rest. Sufferers feel weak, weary, drowsy, exhausted and sometimes have sore limbs and are out of breath. The fatigue can be frustrating as it can impact on a patient’s ability to work, socialise and even function day to day.

What causes the fatigue?

Cancer treatments take a toll on the body. Some cause a reduction in red blood cells, making patients anaemic. Fatigue can be the result of any one of the following treatments:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Bone marrow transplants
  • Biological therapies
  • Hormone therapies

Some cancers and tumours release toxins while others cause the body to produce proteins, all of which can cause fatigue.

Be Prepared for Ongoing Fatigue

It’s important to remind cancer patients during treatment and counselling sessions that they might continue to suffer from debilitating fatigue. This helps prepare for the fact that life may still not be great once treatment is finished. The stress and depression that may come with a cancer diagnosis can also add to fatigue. Cancer patients need ongoing support from their network of family, friends and professionals.

How can you reduce the fatigue?

There are steps you can try to reduce the fatigue; they will work for some sufferers and not for others. It’s a matter of seeing what works best for you.

Energy levels

Keep a record of your energy levels to see if part of the day is better than others. You then know when is the best time to go out or get a few jobs done around the house. Try some relaxation techniques or meditation to see if they help improve your energy levels.

Don’t over-do it

Don’t expect too much of yourself, just set small goals. Your body has been through a lot and needs time to heal so be kind to yourself. Spread out your physical tasks so that you do a little each day rather than working too hard one day and feeling wiped out the next. Stop doing physical activities before you feel tired and know your limit.

Pacing Program

Evidence shows that exercise can reduce the debilitating effects of cancer-related fatigue. PeopleSense offer physical pacing programs to assist with recovery. An experienced exercise physiologist will design a pacing program that starts off with low intensity and duration exercise then builds on progress by modifying the program.

Coping with work and fatigue

Cancer patients are often keen to get back to work and their old life as soon as treatment is over only to find they struggle. Try these tactics for getting your work life back on track:

  • If you have had time off, don’t over promise your return to work until you know how you feel
  • If your occupation is suited to working from home, ask if you can spend some days at home and avoid a tiring commute
  • If your duties are making work difficult, ask your employer if you can change to less strenuous tasks
  • Tell your colleagues that treatment is over but it takes time to recover
  • Have regular breaks and rest periods during your work day
  • If you have any leave left, consider taking some time off if work is too tiring
  • Plan your day so that you are working on important tasks during the time of day you have the most energy
  • Drink plenty of water and eat well to keep your energy levels up

Help is available

There are treatments your doctor can prescribe to reduce the fatigue you feel. If the fatigue persists after treatment continue to seek advice on steps you can take to manage it. Fatigue can be debilitating and interfere with your ability to enjoy life.

Call PeopleSense on (08) 9388 9000 or 1300 307 912 to talk to an exercise physiologist about starting a pacing program and if you have any concerns about your mood or depression talk to a psychologist about psychological treatment or counselling.