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Managing Cancer-related Fatigue

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

Fatigue that arises due to cancer or the course of treatment is common amongst people who are receiving ongoing therapy or have completed cancer treatment.

Cancer-related fatigue can often last for weeks, months, or years even after treatment ends. This can affect people’s activities of daily living, including their personal, social and working lives.

Here are some ideas to help reduce cancer-related fatigue:

1. Exercise

Decreased physical activity, which may be the result of illness or of treatment, can lead to tiredness and lack of energy. [1]

Chat with your physiotherapists! They can design safe and progressive exercise programs to help you remain physically active. Plus, its benefits are numerous. Exercising during or after treatment has been shown to reduce pain and fatigue, improve muscle strength, and lower stress levels.

2. Food

Cancer-related fatigue is often made worse if you are not eating enough or if you are not eating the right foods. Maintaining good nutrition can help you feel better and have more overall energy.

A well-balanced diet is essential to stay strong during and after cancer treatment. Choose fresh foods and drink adequate fluids packed with key nutrients, such as protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. Talk to your dietician about what other supplemental vitamins you should take if your daily intake is insufficient.

3. Energy Levels

It helps to think of energy as a ‘bank’ where rests are ‘deposits’ and activities are ‘withdrawals’. It may be tempting to overdo things as soon as there's some energy in the ‘bank’ and drain energy reserves completely, increasing exhaustion. Adequate sleep and rest are a priority to fuel the rest of your day.

Planning, Prioritising, and Pacing (aka the 3Ps) to manage your schedule and reduce stress levels, which plays an important role in combating fatigue.

4. Communication

The first step in treating fatigue is knowing the problem exists. Many people don't bother to mention fatigue to their doctors because they believe it is normal. But feel free to start a conversation on this topic with people providing you care. Not understanding cancer-related fatigue can lead to communication problems and feelings of guilt within the family or with friends.

A doctor can explain to friends and family that fatigue is a common effect of cancer treatment and suggest ways that they can support you in this journey.

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