Fatigue, the feeling of extreme tiredness is the most common side effect of cancer treatment.  Symptoms of fatigue include not being able to focus, not being able to remember things, mood changes and a general feeling of being tired. Cancer-related fatigue has many causes.  Some of them may be the cancer itself, anemia, poor nutrition or lack of exercise.  If you are feeling fatigued after treatment, here are a few tips to help you save your energy.

  • Remember Cancer Fatigue is Real!
  • Plan your day so that you have time to rest in between activities.
  • Make an activities list every day, but only include the items that must be done that day.  Keep a second list of things you’d like to do if you have the extra energy.  Save your energy for the activities that mean the most to you.  Schedule activities around high-energy times and days.
  • Check your goals.  Being careful and realistic in what you choose to do will reduce mental as well as physical fatigue.
  • Learn to pace yourself.  You can do more by spreading out what you need to do over the entire day.  Take breaks between activities.  Rest breaks save energy for the things you want to do.
  • Change the way a tiring task is done in order to use less energy.  For example: sit when ironing.
  • Pass on hard, high-energy tasks to willing family or friends.  Do not force yourself to do more than you can manage.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Ask for help with tasks like housekeeping, laundry, shopping and carpooling kids.
  • Take a short nap when waiting your child during carpool line
  • Keep an activities journal.  Write down what you do during the day and note your energy and tiredness levels.  After a few days, review your entries to see if there are any patterns.  This can help you to change, schedule, or pace these activities throughout the day.
  • Work on the hardest errands during the time of the day you feel you have the most energy.
  • Restore your energy with activities that you enjoy and make you feel good, such as reading, watching a movie or spending time with your family.
    • Take short naps or breaks rather than one, long rest period.  Do not nap in the late afternoon or evening because it may get in the way of your nighttime sleep. Try to keep naps less than 30 minutes.
    • Reduce stress with relaxation, deep breathing, hypnosis, guided imagery, or distraction to restore energy.
    • Try easier or shorter kinds of activities you enjoy.
    • Eat well, and drink plenty of fluids.  For more tips on nutrition see the “Nutrition to Fight Fatigue” tip sheet.
    • Exercise.  Take short walks or do light exercises such as stretching if possible.  Stay as active as you can, many people find that light exercise such as walking can actually decrease their fatigue.

Talk to your family about your fatigue.

    •   If your family does not understand your fatigue it can lead to communication problems, resentment, and feelings of guilt.

When do you need to seek help?

  • Always talk to your doctor or nurse about your fatigue.  There are many causes for your tiredness that they may be able to treat.  If you keep a fatigue/tiredness diary, bring it with you when you go to see them.  It will help them decide what else can be done to help your fatigue get better.

Useful Websites:
Guide to Understand Insomnia and fatigue. Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care: What is fatigue?
Cancer related fatigue
Cancer fatigue: Why it occurs and how to cope

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