How to Cope with Fatigue

During and after cancer treatment, many feel fatigued. The most common side-effect of cancer treatment, fatigue often causes feelings of being tired, weak and lacking energy.

Much different than the tiredness a healthy person can experience, cancer-related fatigue does not improve with rest alone and can significantly reduce quality of life. Fatigue usually lessens when cancer treatment ends, but symptoms can still persist for a long time.
 

What is fatigue?

  • Physical or mental exhaustion
  • Having less energy to do things you normally do or want to do
  • Feeling heaviness in arms and legs
  • Unable to sleep or sleep too much
  • A common symptom with cancer or cancer treatment
  • Lasts for long periods of time, affecting daily activities
  • Not relieved by sleep or rest
  • Can vary in unpleasantness and intensity
 
Common causes of cancer-related fatigue include side effects of medications, anxiety, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, trouble sleeping, pain, anemia, difficulty of breathing, emotional distress and other illnesses in addition to cancer.
 

Do I need help? Ask yourself:

  • Am I too tired to do my normal activities?
  • Do I not have the energy to eat properly?
  • Do I have trouble thinking or concentrating?
  • Am I feeling isolated and depressed?
  • Do I have trouble following my treatment plan?
     
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, talk to your doctor about how you’ve been feeling. Keep a diary or a log, including:
  • When did the fatigue start?
  • What makes the fatigue better or worse?
  • How has fatigue affected your daily routine or activities?  

 

There are several things you can do to manage fatigue including:
  • Sort out important activities from those that can wait
  • Perform activities during the times of day you tend to have more energy
  • Place items where you can easily reach them
  • Take breaks between tasks before becoming too tired
  • Set a regular bedtime for yourself
  • Whenever possible, perform tasks sitting rather than standing
  • Ask for help by asking friends and family to do things for you
     

Additionally, a daily workout routine can help by strengthening your muscles, keeping bones healthy and restoring joint flexibility. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about an exercise program.

  • Keep in mind that you might feel more tired after you first start exercising because your body is adapting, but don’t get discouraged.
  • Breathe properly while you exercise, inhaling and exhaling between movements.
  • Exercise slowly and completely, and pace yourself — don’t rush.
  • If you have muscle or joint pain lasting more than two hours, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about more gentle exercises.

 

City of Hope also has several resources available to you. Talk with your survivorship healthcare team about your concerns. You can also reach a social worker by calling the Division of Clinical Social Work at 626-256-4673, ext. 82282.

You may also find helpful information, education and support in the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center, including support groups, education classes, music therapy, art therapy and more.

Visit the Supportive Services Events Calendar for class descriptions, dates and to reserve your spots.