6 ways to fight fatigue during cancer treatment

October 17, 2018 | by Samir Undevia, MD

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer and its treatment. For some, fatigue is caused by a specific medication. For others, it may be due to anemia, lack of sleep, poor nutrition or the treatment itself.

If you find yourself so tired and drained that it interferes with your ability to live your life, talk to your care team. Your care team will likely ask if you have any of these symptoms:

  • You feel tired and it doesn’t get better, it keeps coming back, or it becomes severe.
  • You’re more tired than usual during or after an activity, or you feel tired and it’s not related to an activity.
  • You put less energy into your personal appearance.
  • You’re too tired to do the things you normally do.
  • Your arms and legs feel heavy and hard to move, or you feel weak and have no energy.
  • Your tiredness doesn’t get better with rest or sleep.
  • You spend more time in bed and/or sleep more. Or, you may have trouble sleeping.
  • You stay in bed for more than 24 hours. You become confused, can’t concentrate, or have trouble remembering things.
  • Your tiredness disrupts your work, social life or daily routine.
  • You feel sad, depressed, irritable or frustrated about how the fatigue is effecting your life.

The fatigue that comes with cancer is different than everyday fatigue. It lasts longer and it doesn’t go away with rest. It causes a lot of distress.

While there is no way to know whether you’ll have cancer-related fatigue or when it will end, there are ways to lessen fatigue so that life can be more normal. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Eat well. Eat a well-balanced diet as you are going through treatment, including plant-based foods, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and stay hydrated. A healthy diet can help you feel better, fight infections and keep your body strong. These are some foods you should avoid during treatment.
  2. Control your nausea. No one likes to feel like they are going to be sick. Ask your doctor about prescribing you an anti-nausea medication before your treatment begins, or try some of these ways to control your nausea at home.
  3. Conserve your energy. Save your energy for the things you want to do each day. You may not be able to do everything you want, so prioritize what’s most important to you and focus on those tasks. Take short rests in between activities.
  4. Manage stress. Increasing your physical activity can actually help reduce and manage your stress. It can be difficult to do when you are feeling tired, but try walking a little bit more every day to increase your stamina. Yoga can also help boost your mood, improve balance and improve blood flow.
  5. Get the right amount of sleep. Go to bed only when you feel sleepy and sleep in a dark and quiet room. Avoid watching television or playing on your cell phone before bed. Muscle relaxation, guided imagery and hypnosis can also help you relax when it’s time for bed. If you’re having trouble sleeping or staying asleep, talk to your care team. Here are more ways to manage insomnia.
  6. Try creative arts therapy. Creative arts can help manage emotional and psychological challenges of a diagnosis and treatment. Things like journaling, coloring in an adult coloring book, cooking or playing an instrument can help stimulate your senses and reduce stress and tension.

Cancer fatigue is real and very difficult, but you don’t have to endure it. There are a variety of ways to manage cancer-related fatigue. Your doctor and the rest of your care team can help you find strategies that will work best for you and your family.

Explore cancer support services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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