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Combating cancer-related fatigue

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According to the American Cancer Society, fatigue is the most common side effect found in individuals going through cancer treatments. In fact, about 90 percent of patients have fatigue while they are receiving treatment. While working with various individuals throughout different stages of diagnosis in treatment I have found this to be a fairly accurate symptom assessment. The main difference that most people do not understand is that cancer-related fatigue is completely different from everyday tiredness or fatigue. Cancer-related fatigue makes general activities such as shopping, showering, dressing, household chores or work extremely difficult. The other major difference is that it can occur without warning and is not relieved with rest. Cancer-related fatigue is physically, mentally and emotionally draining for an individual, and it affects their ability to actively participate in daily life.

Some sings of cancer-related fatigue are:

  • Prolonged, extreme tiredness after exertion
  • Feeling weak, tired, weary or exhausted even after sleeping
  • Arms and legs may feel heavy and hard to move
  • Trouble completing your daily activities due to fatigue
  • Having trouble concentrating, thinking clearly or remembering
  • Feeling frustrated, irritable and upset about the tiredness and its effects
  • Not taking part in normal day-to-day activities
  • Putting less energy into personal appearance
  • Spending more time in bed or sleeping

As you can see, these are some difficult symptoms to overcome, but it is possible to manage your daily pursuits by breaking things down and staying as active as possible. Exercise can be extremely important in reducing the effects of fatigue.

Seven tips to reduce cancer-related fatigue:

1. Rest, but not too much
Try, if possible, to sleep your normal time through the night and during the day rest only about 30 minutes. Longer periods of rest can actually lead to or increase your overall fatigue levels.

2. Stay active
Exercise, especially with walking. Sometimes a short stint of physical rehab can be helpful in giving you ideas and guidelines to follow at home.

3. Save your energy
Learning energy conservation tips and ways to prioritize activities can lessen your fatigue and allow you to be more efficient throughout the day.

4. Get help
Don’t be afraid to have family, friends or outside community sources assist with activities that are too difficult for you to perform at this time.

5. Get support
Support groups can be extremely beneficial, allowing you to meet others going through similar procedures and side effects as well as giving you ideas on how to cope within your situation.

6. Eat well
A balanced diet is extremely important to assist your body in healing.

7. Call your provider
If you experience any of the above symptoms or worsening of symptoms, contact your provider.

Cancer-related fatigue is usually stated to be a short-term symptom and should decrease as your treatments progress in minimizing the cancer, or after treatment ends. I highly recommend talking to your oncologist regarding cancer-related fatigue and ask them for a referral to a physical therapist either during or after your treatments. There are many skilled therapists within Affinity Health System that have experience in working with cancer patients that may assist you in energy conservation techniques.

About Becky Kissinger

Becky Kissinger, PT, DPT, provides comprehensive general rehabilitation services for patients of all ages. Dr. Kissinger has a special interest in providing treatment to adolescents with sports-related injuries, Parkinson’s disease and cancer patients. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and her doctorate degree in physical therapy at Concordia University-Wisconsin.

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