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Coping with Fatigue After Cancer Treatment

June 26, 2014

It’s a feeling that many of us know all too well. After staying up late one night or spending a long day at work, we feel tired—exhausted, even. As we pour our second cup of coffee by 10 a.m., we struggle to keep our eyes open, wishing we could go home and go to bed. Thankfully, once we do get a good night’s rest, the feeling goes away, and we feel recharged and rejuvenated.

All too often, however, many people confuse this feeling of tiredness with fatigue. Tiredness happens to everyone at some point, but fatigue is much more serious—especially for those who have gone through cancer treatment.

For months or even years following treatment, many cancer survivors experience what is known as cancer-related fatigue—a daily lack of energy that is unrelieved by sleep or rest. It is one of the most common long-term effects of cancer treatment, affecting 70 to 90 percent of all cancer patients and survivors.

Cancer-related fatigue can affect every part of your life and leave you feeling physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. It can prevent you from staying active and doing the things you enjoy. While it may have once been a simple task to shop for groceries, cook dinner or read a book, those everyday activities can now become extremely daunting.

While fatigue can certainly have a major effect on your everyday life, there are a number of things you can do to feel more energized and less exhausted throughout the day. Here are some key tips to help you cope with cancer-related fatigue:

Plan Your Day

To help combat cancer-related fatigue, start by planning your day. It always helps to know your schedule, so that way, you can be active at the time of day when you feel most alert and energetic.

Save Your Energy

There are a few key ways to help save your energy during the times of day when you feel particularly tired or drained. One of the tips I commonly recommend to my patients is to try modifying or changing the way you do things. When you’re cooking or washing dishes, for example, try sitting on a stool instead of standing. It can also be helpful to take a short nap or rest between activities. This can boost your energy level and help you function better throughout the rest of the day.

Develop Good Sleep Habits

Another thing that I highly recommend is to plan a sleep schedule. When you’re dealing with chronic fatigue, it is extremely important to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. This can help you get into a routine and feel less tired during the day. While it is crucial to develop good sleep habits, be sure that you’re not getting too much rest. Even though you may want to sleep longer, too much rest can actually decrease your energy level. Seven to eight hours a night is all you need.

Do What You Love—But Do Less of It

While the effects of fatigue can slow you down, it is still important to do what you enjoy. However, as I tell my patients, “Do what you love, but do less of it.” To help save your energy, try cutting back on the amount of time you spend doing an activity. You can also focus your attention on interests that don’t tire you out. For instance, try reading something brief or listening to music.

Let Others Help You

This tip might be hard to listen to, but it is extremely important to let others help you. Yes, it can be difficult to ask for help, but more often than not, your friends and family are more than willing to do whatever they can to support you. It might be something as simple as cooking a meal, running an errand or doing the laundry—but trust me, it can go a long way.

Choose How to Spend Your Energy

Another way to save your energy is to spend it differently. This might seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes it can be difficult to say “no” to certain things. Evaluate what’s important to you, and let go of the things that don’t matter as much now.

Join a Support Group

Finally, to help cope with fatigue, you may want to think about joining a support group. Talking about your fatigue with others who are going through the same thing can help you feel less overwhelmed and find new ways to cope.

To learn more about managing cancer-related fatigue, take a look at these tips from the American Cancer Society.