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Fatigue and Tiredness

Some cancer patients can continue working full or part-time while taking chemotherapy; most cancer patients, however, are unable to do so. They experience tiredness, lack of energy and fatigue during the course of the treatment and sometimes weeks following. The fatigue can be linked directly to the disease itself or due to low blood counts, pain, loss of appetite or/and lack of sleep caused by the treatment: surgery, chemotherapy or/and radiation therapy. In fact, tiredness and lack of energy is the most common adverse effects that cancer patients complain about, according to the National Cancer Institute.   

Fatigue due to chemotherapy tends to occur suddenly and can last days, weeks or months in certain patients. The duration depends on the patient health, lifestyle and types of chemo drugs taken. Certain medications such as vincristine, vinblastine and cisplatin are more likely to cause fatigue. In addition, Patients who are undergoing more than one therapy at the same time tend to be more victim of Cancer-related fatigue.  Unlike other types of fatigue, rest barely brings some relief in patients who struggle with cancer-related fatigue (CRF). A healthy and balanced diet associated with moderate exercise may help some individuals. Good night sleep and short naps during the day can be very useful. It also is important to avoid or treat stress and depression as those two can cause or worsen the fatigue.  

What You Can Do? 

Start combatting fatigue by treating its underlying cause such as anemia, malnutrition, lack of sleep, stress, depression, hypothyroidism and others. However, this may not be enough; you do need to take other steps:    

  • Limit your work and save your energyfor Important Tasks 
  • Rest before you feel tired or fatigued   
  • Take frequent short rests or naps   
  • Put all items you regular use at your reach   
  • Ask family or friends for help when you have to do heavy duty 
  • Follow your activities by a period of rest   
  • Reduce prolonged standing   
  • Avoid smoke or noxious fumes which can make you feel exhausted  
  • Breathe as  evenly as you can; do not hold your breath during work or activities  
  • Do not wear  clothes that impact your free and easy breathing 

Consume foods capable of combatting fatigue: 

Malnutrition or poor diet can worsen your fatigue. It is important to eat the right foods regularly during cancer treatment; this is important to prevent CRF but also to increase your survival chance. As they say, there is no good treatment without a healthy and balanced diet. Practicing the following tips can considerably improve your overall health:    

  • Drink at least 8 cups of fluid per day  
  • Avoid food that have strong odors which can make you vomit, and eventually cause fatigue 
  • Do not full your stomach; instead, eat small amounts of food throughout the day   
  • Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables and fruits – you can juice them using a juice extractor   
  • Intake about 0.6 grams of protein per pound of your body weight per day – fish and sweet potatoes are great source of protein  
  • Every day, take 15 calories per pound of your weight if you have a normal weight or 500 calories per day if you have lost weight.  

To boost your energy, you can practice moderate exercise, as long as your doctor says it’s okay to do so. Unlike what most people think, it is not good to eliminate physical activity during cancer treatment; it can lead to tiredness and lack of energy, feelings of anxiety, depression, weakness, fatigue, and nausea. Therefore, as long as you can, do moderate exercise (walking, biking, swimming and others) regularly by starting slowly. In addition, it is shown in many studies that moderate exercise during cancer therapy help to:       

  • Increase survival rate  
  • Lower blood pressure   
  • Improve heart functions 
  • Improve libido 
  • Increase endurance   
  • Increase appetite  
  • Have Better sleeping patterns  
  • Have positive attitude and a good mood  
  • Have healthy tendons, ligaments, joints and bones, which prevent or relive pain, stiffness or arthritic joints  

When to Call Your Doctor? 

See your doctor or health care provider if you experience any of the following:     

  • Intense fatigue that keep you in bed   
  • Fatigue associated with increasing shortness of breath with minimal exertion 
  • Serious feeling of anxiety or nervousness   
  • Ongoing depression  
  • Fatigue associated with abnormal heart beats.