Strategies to combat cancer-related fatigue

Oct 13, 2017 | Megan Roessler M. Ed. | @meganroessler


Are you feeling tired and nothing seems to help or that you aren’t able to get anything accomplished?  That is a defeating feeling!  A common complaint we hear during and after cancer treatment is exhaustion.  Fatigue from cancer treatment is different than other fatigue you may have experienced in your life.  It is not the same as being tired after exercise, or up all night with a baby or “pulling an all-nighter.”

Cancer-related fatigue is a persistent, on-going feeling of physical, emotional and mental tiredness or exhaustion related to cancer and/or its treatment. It does not go away simply by resting and can last awhile, for months to years, post treatment.

Most cancer patients experience fatigue to some degree during treatment. This may be due to the cancer itself, how your body is reacting to the treatment or a combination of both.  It takes energy to heal from treatment whether that be surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or others included as part of your treatment plan.  In addition to the physical toll on your body, your daily routine may be completely interrupted by travel, appointments and tests.  Plus, there’s the stress and anxiety of having your diagnosis. It's a lot and can leave one feeling drained.

These are strategies you can use to help with fatigue.

First, proper nutrition and hydration provide the fuel your body requires to heal, recover and maintain energy:

  • Sip on water or other liquids throughout the day.
  • Focus on foods that are good, healthy sources of protein, carbohydrates and calories.
  • Experiment with more frequent and smaller meals and snacks to see how your body and energy level responds.
  • Keep foods on hand that are quick and easy, with minimal preparation (cheese, yogurt, nuts, fruit, etc.).
  • Eat your main meal when you feel well-rested.

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce cancer-related fatigue:

  • Plan to exercise at a time of day when your energy level is highest.
  • Begin slowly; 10 minute walks and increase over time. For example, consider doing 2-3 10-minute walks a day.
  • Partner with someone who has similar goals and is a good cheerleader for you.
  • Make exercise a daily habit.

Sleep is like a reset button for your body and is vital to all of us. It is especially important to you as you continue to heal and recover:

  • Be consistent with bedtime and wake-up times.
  • Limit naps to 20 minutes.
  • Optimize your sleeping environment by keeping your bedroom quiet and comfortable.
  • Avoid using electronics an hour prior to bedtime.
  • Practice relaxation breathing to help you fall asleep.

Stress may play a part in your level of fatigue:

  • Try guided imagery and meditation exercises.
  • Experiment with gentle movement yoga and tai chi.
  • Practice mindfulness by focusing on what brings you joy each day.

All of these things, nutrition, exercise, sleep and reducing stress work together to decrease fatigue. Consider setting a new goal in each area.  Perhaps incorporate one new focus area per week. Share your successes, we would love to celebrate them with you!


Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Cancer Education blog.

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