Coping with Cancer Fatigue During and After Treatment
Cancer fatigue may feel like persisting physical, mental, and emotional lassitude. It is not similar to the fatigue felt by people without cancer, which can be resolved after a good night’s sleep. Cancer-related-fatigue interferes with routine activities and gradually affects the quality of life. No amount of sleep can reduce cancer fatigue. Cancer fatigue can last for a long time, even after the need for treatment has ended.
Scientists have not been able to pinpoint the exact causes of cancer-related fatigue. Still, doctors suggest that cancer treatment and cancer itself can take a toll on the physical condition of the patient.
Causes of fatigue in cancer patients
Various factors can contribute to the causes of cancer fatigue, and the reason for tiredness differs from patient to patient.
However, the most common explanations for fatigue are as follows.
- Your cancer: Cytokines, a kind of protein released by certain types of cancer, can tire the body rapidly.
- Other cancers can deplete your energy levels, weaken muscles, certain damage organs, or affect the body’s hormones. All of these can result in fatigue.
- Cancer treatment: Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, biological therapy, and bone marrow transplantation might cause fatigue as it destroys healthy cells along with targeted cells.
- Anemia: If your treatment affects too many RBCs (Red Blood Cells), then chances are you might develop anemia. The risk factors associated with contracting anemia are cancer that has spread to the bone marrow, hindered blood cell production, and blood loss.
- Pain: Chronic pain makes the patient eat less, inactive, sleepless, and depressed, which can slowly exhaust the body.
- Emotions: Stress, anxiety, or depression following a cancer diagnosis can instill a feeling of tiredness in the patient, thus adding to fatigue.
- Lack of sleep: Insomnia can affect body functioning, cause lethargy, and a sense of tiredness in cancer patients.
- Poor nutrition: In a cancer patient, the ability to process nutrients can change, limiting the energy needed for daily activities, and harming the quality of life. Eventually, this leads to poor nutrition that can render the patient chronic tired.
- Lack of exercise: Inactivity can drain the energy resources rapidly and make a person sluggish.
- Hormonal changes: Hormonal therapies, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy can incite hormonal changes in the body, which can result in fatigue.
How to cope: Medical treatments and self-care
Since fatigue can be the result of one or any number of factors, doctors will suggest medication or self-care for reducing and coping with symptoms.
- Medical intervention
The underlying cause of fatigue can be addressed with medication. For instance, if anemia is causing you cancer fatigue, then blood transfusions can help. In case your insomnia is starting to affect daily activities, then sleeping pills in the right doses might be advised.
- Take it easy: Instead of retiring for one long period, nap for no more than one hour, in short bursts, throughout the day.
- Save your energy: Conserve your energy for activities you consider important. Take note of the times you are at your best and set them aside for your important activities.
- Maintain your energy levels: Keep drinking fluids and eat well throughout the day. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Light exercise: Yoga, tai chi, brisk walking, and cycling can keep you active. Make exercising a part of your routine, as this might prevent fatigue during cancer treatment.
Talk to your doctor
Fatigue is one of the common symptoms of cancer, but if it’s starting to affect your routine activities, then it’s time to talk to your doctor. Discuss the factors that could be responsible for your fatigue and what you could do to cope with the symptoms. Your oncologist will be able to recommend the right approach to tackling your fatigue, and improving your situation.