How to Cope with Fatigue

"Fatigue is being tired – physically, mentally and emotionally. It means having less energy to do the things you need or want to do. The fatigue that comes with cancer, called cancer-related fatigue, is different from the fatigue of daily life." - American Cancer Society.

Cancer-related fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment.

Over 80 percent of people with cancer feel cancer-related fatigue. Cancer and cancer treatments kill both cancer cells and healthy cells, so your body is working harder than normal to heal.
Fatigue can affect all areas of life by making the patient too tired to take part in daily activities, relationships, social events, and community activities. Patients may miss work or school, spend less time with friends and family, or spend more time sleeping.

What is cancer-related fatigue?

  • Physical or mental exhaustion - feeling extremely tired, weak and having no energy
  • Feeling heaviness in arms and legs
  • Feeling little to no motivation
  • Sadness and/or irritability
  • Unable to sleep or sleep too much
  • Can persist over time and interfere with usual activities
  • More distressing and not always relieved by rest
  • Can vary in its unpleasantness and severity
  • Can make being with friends/family difficult
  • Can make it difficult to follow your treatment plan

What are the common causes of cancer-related fatigue?

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Symptoms or side effects, such as pain and breathing difficulty, from the cancer or the treatments
  • Emotional distress and anxiety
  • Sleep issues
  • Poor nutrition - eating habits and changes in appetite or weight
  • Lack of exercise
  • Other illnesses such as infection, hypertension, diabetes
  • Medicines other than chemotherapy may add to fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating and thinking

How can I manage fatigue?

  • Make a plan that balances rest and activity. Choose activities that are relaxing for you. Many people choose to listen to music, read, meditate, practice guided imagery, or spend time with people they enjoy. Relaxing can help you save your energy and lower stress.
  • Light exercise may also be advised by your doctor to give you more energy and help you feel better.
  • Plan time to rest. If you are tired, take short naps of less than 1 hour during the day. However, too much sleep during the day can make it difficult to sleep at night.
  • Choose the activities that are most important to you and do them when you have the most energy.
  • Ask for help with important tasks such as making meals or driving.
  • Eat and drink well. Meet with a registered dietitian to learn about foods and drinks that can increase your level of energy. Foods high in protein and calories will help you keep up your strength. Some people find it easier to eat many small meals throughout the day instead of three big meals. Stay well hydrated. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
  • Meet with a specialist. It may help to meet with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. These experts help people to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings. Lowering stress may give you more energy.
  • Since pain that is not controlled can also be major source of fatigue, it may help to meet with a pain or palliative care specialist.

Talk to your health care team about your fatigue

  • What is most likely causing my fatigue?
  • What should I keep track of and share so we can develop a plan to help me feel better?
  • What types of exercise (and how much) do you recommend for me?
  • How much rest should I have during the day? How much sleep should I get at night?
  • What food and drinks are best for me?
  • Are there treatments or medicines that could help me feel better?

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