Living with cancer blog

How to fight cancer-related fatigue

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. February 13, 2010

Hi everyone, my name is Sheryl Ness. I'm a nurse and educator for the Cancer Education Program. Nicole Engler is signing off to take on new responsibilities and so I was invited to be your new writer for this blog. I'm really thrilled to see the sharing and support that's occurring as you reach out to each other as cancer survivors.

I have many years of experience as a nurse, more than five years working directly with cancer patients, as well as serving as a writer and editor for a cancer survivor newsletter. My hope is that I can assist in bringing up topics that are of interest for you to discuss and share together.

I've noticed many of you mention that fatigue is a big concern. Whether you're currently receiving treatment, have completed treatment, or are years post-treatment, fatigue can be a persistent, lasting effect from cancer treatment. It may seem like normal, daily tasks take more energy and your reserves are far less than before your treatment. Recently, Mayo Clinic completed a survey of the needs of cancer survivors, and identified fatigue as a major concern.

Cancer-related fatigue is different from the fatigue of everyday life, which is usually temporary and often relieved by a good night's sleep. Cancer-related fatigue is an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and persistent feeling of tiredness that can accompany cancer and cancer treatment. It's usually not relieved by rest or sleep.

Here are some strategies to help with cancer-related fatigue:

  • Allow time earlier in the day for short periods of rest, so that night sleep is not disturbed.
  • Talk with your doctor or nurse about a program of regular exercise. Mild to moderate exercise has been found to be helpful in reducing fatigue. Consider swimming, walking, yoga, etc.
  • Balance rest, sleep, and activity. While sleep and rest are important, don't overdo it. Too much rest can actually decrease your energy level.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of liquids. Your body needs protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water to work efficiently. Meet with a nutritionist or dietitian to find the best plan for you.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help, it makes others feel needed and helps you get things done. For example, neighbors may pick up items for you at the grocery store while doing their own shopping.
  • Use relaxation methods or creative outlets to reduce stress (i.e. deep breathing, imagery, meditation, music, art).
  • Maintain your social life. Many people eliminate social activities all together when they are feeling fatigued. Include activities that are satisfying to you in order to replenish your spirit. These activities can actually add to your energy level.
  • Work with your health care provider to keep symptoms like anemia, nausea, and fever under control.

Although fatigue can sometimes be difficult to cope with, it can be managed. What works for one person may not work well for another, it may take a little trial and error. Please add to this list of ideas to help manage fatigue. It's a real problem that many of you are experiencing. Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas on what's worked for you, or resources that you've found to be helpful.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

Feb. 13, 2010