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Coping with Cancer-Related Fatigue

Cancer-related fatigue is more than just feeling tired. It’s a pervasive, bone-weary feeling of weakness and exhaustion that’s not always relieved by rest or sleep. Such fatigue can be distressing. It keeps sufferers from normal activities and makes it hard for them to follow their cancer treatments as prescribed.

While cancer-related fatigue is normal and common, you can manage it. But first speak with your healthcare provider about the fatigue. It may be related to side effects from your cancer drugs, radiation treatments or another condition.

Treatable Causes of Fatigue

Treating and managing cancer-related conditions that cause fatigue can greatly improve how you feel. These conditions include:

  • Anemia
  • Pain
  • Emotional distress, depression, anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Poor or no appetite
  • Decreased activity
  • Low thyroid function
  • Infection
  • Heart, lung, kidney and nervous system diseases

For example, your provider may treat anemia with iron and folic acid supplements, a blood transfusion or drugs that help bone marrow make red blood cells.

Strategies to Beat Cancer Fatigue

Even when all the treatable causes are controlled, you may still feel tired. The following self-care strategies may help:

  • Plan your day around regular rest periods. Reserve your energy for the activities most important to you.
  • Let family and friends know what you need, such as help with child care, grocery shopping, meal preparation, errands or household chores.
  • Learn and practice stress-reduction techniques like breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation or prayer. Talking with friends, reading, listening to music, painting and pursuing other creative endeavors reduce stress, too.
  • Incorporate light-to-moderate physical activity, such as walking, to relieve fatigue, boost your mood, improve your appetite and increase your energy. Your healthcare provider or a physical therapist can help you plan an appropriate program.
  • Keep a journal to reduce stress and fatigue.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes protein foods such as meat, milk, eggs and beans. Drink about eight to 10 glasses, of water daily.
  • Consider joining a support group. Sharing your experiences can help lift your burden, and you may learn helpful ways to cope with your fatigue from others facing it, too.

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