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How To Overcome Cancer Fatigue?

Get tips for coping with cancer-related fatigue.

How To Overcome Cancer Fatigue?

“Fatigue can be confused with tiredness.  Everyone gets tired.  In fact, it is an expected feeling after certain activities or at the end of the day.  Usually, we know why we’re tired and a good night’s sleep will solve the problem.  Fatigue is less precise, less cause-and-effect.  Fatigue is a daily lack of energy; an unusual or excessive whole-body tiredness, not relieved by sleep.  It can be acute (lasting a month or less) or chronic (lasting from 1 month to 6 months or longer).  Fatigue can have a profound negative impact on a person’s ability to function and quality of life. ” – source: chemocare.com

Many cancer organizations share their tips on how to overcome cancer fatigue. We’ve curated a list of all the best tips. Oh, and you can submit your tips or add comments to tips submitted by others.

#1 Rest, but not too much

"Plan your day so you have time to rest. Take short naps or rest breaks (30 minutes or less), rather than one long nap during the day. Too much rest can lower your energy level and make it harder to sleep at night." - source: cancer.org

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#2 Eating well

"Eating well can help improve your energy levels. Make the most of the times when your appetite is good and try to choose foods that give you energy over a period of time, like nuts and cereals. Sugary foods may give you a quick fix but won’t keep your energy levels up for very long." - source: breastcancercare.org.uk

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#3 Keep to a routine

"Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Don't stay in bed after you wake up. Make sure you get enough sleep and that you sleep for the same amount of time each night." - source: breastcancer.org

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#4 Physical activity

"Because physical activity can help to reduce fatigue, your treatment team should be able to recommend exercise programmes for you to take part in. Your hospital or centre may even provide these." - source: breastcancernow.org

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#5 Aerobic exercises

"Aerobic exercises (like walking or cycling) appear to be best for reducing fatigue, but exercises such as yoga can also help."

"Exercise regularly during the day, but avoid exercise in the evening" - source: komen.org

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#6 Drug treatments for fatigue

"There are not any licensed drug treatments to help prevent or improve fatigue yet. Steroid drugs, such as dexamethasone, can sometimes be helpful. But they can have side effects, so you should talk to your doctor about the possible benefits and disadvantages." - source: macmillan.org.uk

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#7 Antidepressants for depression

"Sometimes antidepressants for depression and/or anxiety or erythropoietin for anemia may be helpful in combatting fatigue. Stimulants, such as methylphenidate hydrochloride (Ritalin), are being tested in clinical studies for use in relieving fatigue in patients with cancer, but evidence is inconclusive as to whether they work. Other medications may be prescribed if the cause of fatigue is found to be unrelated to cancer, such as an underactive thyroid. If a drug that you are taking or have been prescribed has fatigue as a side effect, ask your doctor if the drug will still be effective if you reduce the dosage." - source: nccn.org

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#8 Make a list of tasks you’d like help with

"Allow people you trust, such as family, friends, neighbours and carers to help you. Generally, people are glad to help and particularly if you can tell them what you need."

"Make a list of tasks you’d like help with. This could include practical help such as taking out the rubbish, or things like paying bills or setting up direct debits to pay bills. If you have internet access you can do shopping online and have it delivered to your home." - source: macmillan.org.uk

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#9 Maintain your energy

"Drinking lots of fluids and eating well can help keep your energy reserves up. Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol. If nausea and vomiting make it hard to eat, talk to your doctor about these side effects." - source: mayoclinic.org

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#10 Treating anaemia

"Most people with cancer will have anaemia at some point during their illness. Although it's not usually life threatening fatigue caused by anaemia can have a big effect on your daily life.

You might need a blood transfusion to bring your red cell count up again and make you feel more energetic. There are different types of anaemia and you may have anaemia for a number of reasons." - source: cancerresearchuk.org

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#11 Massage, yoga, meditation

"A meditation program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive behavioral therapy. In cognitive behavioral therapy, a trained healthcare provider helps you think about how you feel, and why you do certain behaviors and how to change them — which can lower the stress that causes fatigue and poor sleep." - source: lbbc.org

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#12 Follow the fun

"One of the first questions I ask patients is, “What do you like to do? What do you do for fun?”

Hopefully, it involves something active, such as walking the dog. The best idea of all? Find a buddy (or three) to exercise with. To all of your friends and family who say: “What can I do to help you?” Tell them,“Come make me walk. Keep me company while I walk.” Every day, a different person can be your buddy. It will be good for you and whoever is walking with you!" - source: clevelandclinic.org

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#13 After your bath or shower

"Sit down to dry off after your bath or shower, or simply put on a towelling dressing gown and let that do the work."

"Have some hand rails fitted in your bathroom to hold on to when you get in and out of the shower or bath (the hospital can help to arrange this for you)." - source: mariekeating.ie

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#14 Plan ahead

"Plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to get to places."

"Pace yourself. Combine activities and try to spread the load evenly during the week rather than doing everything at once." - source: cancernz.org.nz

"Plan your treatment schedule. Schedule treatment for times when it will have the least impact on your job or other activities. For example, many patients find that scheduling treatment in the afternoon or at the end of the week allows them to be more productive at work." - source: llscanada.org

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#15 Tell your doctor if you’re experiencing fatigue

"- Get treated for medical conditions or causes that make fatigue worse. Tell your doctor if you’re experiencing fatigue. You should be screened for:
- Pain or its treatment, especially narcotic pain medication
- Emotional distress, such as anxiety or depression
- Poor nutrition or electrolyte imbalances, such as abnormal levels of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium
- Anemia, an abnormally low level of red blood cells
- Sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome
- Medication side effects
- Other medical conditions, such as heart, lung, or hormone problems" - source: cancer.net

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#16 Take the Easy Way Out

"Make your daily activities as easy as possible. Sit while you cook. Keep your keys in a handy place so you don't have to hunt for them. Use a shower chair." - source: webmd.com

"Get dressed sitting down. Prepare your clothes and lay them out in one place before you dress." - source: cancernz.org.nz

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#17 Avoid caffeine

"Avoid caffeine in fluids (like coffee, tea, energy drinks, or soda), medicines (like headache remedies), or even in foods (like chocolate) for at least 8 hours before bed can help, too." - source: cancer.org

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#18 Keep Your Environment Comfortable

"Setting the thermostat at a comfortable temperature – not too hot, not too cold – can help your energy level as well. Avoid hot showers, long hot baths, or activities where you might become chilled." - source: verywellhealth.com

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#19 Plan a loose daily schedule

"- Plan a loose daily schedule or routine based on how you are feeling.
- Save your energy for what you want or need to do most.
- Pace yourself. Try to attend to one thing at a time and include regular short breaks throughout the day. Rest when you need to." - source: cancervic.org.au

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#20 Basic calorie needs

"- Estimated calorie needs for person with cancer is 15 calories per pound of weight if your weight has been stable.  Add 500 calories per day if you have lost weight.
- Example:  A person who weighs 150 lbs. needs about 2250 calories per day to maintain weight." - source: chemocare.com

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#21 Prepare foods in quantity

"At times when you have more energy, prepare foods in quantity. Refrigerate or freeze them for eating later."

"Keep leftovers on single-serving containers so they can be easily warmed in the microwave."

"Use frozen or canned convenience foods that require little preparation."

"Purchase supermarket deli foods and carryout food from restaurants."  - source: rogelcancercenter.org

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#22 Keep a journal

"Aside from using a journal for daily tasks, you can use it to record your emotions and feelings. Write down all the medications or treatments (including vitamins, herbal, and other non-prescription drugs) you take and record the effects on your energy. This journal may also be helpful for sharing information with your doctor or carer." - source: pancare.org.au

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#23 Chiropractic care

"Pain contributes to fatigue, and may lead to poor sleep, which compounds fatigue. Fatigue may also lead to sleeping in uncomfortable positions—like, for example, falling asleep in a chair, which may cause further discomfort. Chiropractic care providers may help reduce musculoskeletal stress, which may alleviate pain and may help with quality of sleep." - source: cancercenter.com

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#24 “No” to things that do not matter

"Just say "no" to things that do not matter as much to you now. This may include housework and other chores. By using the energy you have in rewarding ways, you can live a fuller life." - source: dana-farber.org

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#25 Joining a support/education group

"Think about joining a support/education group for people with cancer. Talking about your fatigue with others who have had the same problem can help you learn new ways to cope." - source: dana-farber.org

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#26 Be flexible

"Don't measure your energy against how you felt before you were diagnosed. Set realistic goals. Allow yourself to shift your focus from fatigue (and what you may not be accomplishing) by listening to music, reading a book, meeting friends, watching a movie or going for a walk or a car ride." - source: llscanada.org

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#27 Before you go to sleep

"Feeling hungry can disturb your sleep. Have a bedtime snack, like a banana."

"Try to cut down on all drinks in the evening, even water, so you don’t have to get up to urinate so often. Make sure you still drink plenty of water during the day." - source: prostatecanceruk.org

"Try to do some soothing or relaxing activities at bedtime"

"Do not eat before bed. This may cause indigestion"

"Try to keep the bedroom free from activities such as reading or watching T.V."

"Avoid any ‘screen time’ (like computers, video games, electronic books) before bedtime as the light from the screens may interfere with your ability to fall asleep" - source: bccancer.bc.ca

"Turn off the TV one hour before bedtime. Listen to quiet music or take a warm bath instead."

"If you haven’t fallen asleep in 15 minutes, go to another room. Avoid mental stimulation and return to bed when you feel sleepy. If you still can’t fall asleep, get up again and repeat these steps." - source: mdanderson.org

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#28 Sit down

"Sit down to do tasks whenever possible, such as when ironing, shaving or preparing food"

"Sit down while talking on the mobile phone"

"If you have children, plan your play time with them and try to play sitting down" - source: cancer.ie

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#29 In the bathroom

"- Place a shower/bath organiser where you can easily reach it.
- Install rails and handles where you need them, for example, in the shower and near the toilet.
- Use extension handles on sponges and brushes.
- Install a raised seat on the toilet." - source: cancerwa.asn.au

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#30 If you have children

"If you have children, rest when they are napping. When you feel most tired, consider hiring a babysitter for a few hours so that you can relax or take a nap." - source: ucsfhealth.org

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#31 Shopping

"- Use a shopping trolley rather than a basket.
- Have your groceries delivered. Consider doing your supermarket shopping online.
- Ask for help. Use shops where the staff are considerate and will carry your bags and boxes to the car.
- Shop at less busy times (evenings or early in the morning)." - source: cancerwa.asn.au

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#32 Make deposits in your ‘energy bank’

"Don’t expect to be able to do what you could do before cancer. Know your limits and don’t expect too much of yourself. You may find it helpful to think of your energy reserves as your ‘energy bank’. Whenever you do an activity you make a withdrawal. And when you rest you make a deposit. It’s important to balance withdrawals with deposits. If you keep doing too much whenever you feel like you have energy, you’ll run out completely and not have any reserves left for the things that are important." - source: powerfulpatients.org

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#33 Have an exit or backup plan

"When you attend an activity or gathering, be sure to have a plan that will allow you to leave easily and quickly if you become too tired." - source: aamds.org

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#34 Avoid alcohol and large meals

"You’ll feel less tired if you only consume alcohol in very small amounts and avoid sugar and excessive eating . Try to have  sensible amounts of protein, fat and fiber at every meal." - source: aamds.org

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#35 Housekeeping

"Schedule household tasks throughout the week"

"Drag or slide objects rather than lifting. Use proper body mechanics. Use your leg muscles not your back when working"

"Stop working before becoming tired" - source: bccancer.bc.ca

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#36 Emotional Stress

"Remember that feeling emotional is "normal" and it is OK to be upset or angry about what is going on for you"

"If your cancer treatment is finished, do not expect yourself to get "back to normal" right away. Give yourself some time to get back on your feet"

"Talk to someone you trust about your feelings" - source: bccancer.bc.ca

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#37 Limit the number of visitors you have

"Use Facebook, an answerphone and emails to update friends and family on how you are rather than seeing lots of visitors." - source: cancernz.org.nz

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#38 Talking with your employer about fatigue

"If you work, talking with your employer about fatigue is crucial. Refer them to websites about fatigue. You may be able to adjust your schedule to work around your energy, or adjust your responsibilities while you are receiving treatment. Talk to your human resources representative about the Americans with Disabilities or Family Medical Leave Acts, sick time and healthcare coverage." - source: oncolink.org

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#39 Embrace the Benefits of Ginseng

"Ginseng has been used for centuries to boost the immune system and manage stress. It has been used as a complement to traditional treatments. Herbal supplements and teas contain ginseng, and the amount or method your patient uses will vary based upon current treatments and severity of their fatigue." - source: ons.org

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