Cancer is a formidable adversary, and the battle against it can be incredibly draining, both physically and mentally. One of the most common and challenging side effects of cancer and its treatments is fatigue. Cancer fatigue is more than just feeling tired; it’s a feeling of overwhelming exhaustion. Many people assume, with some justification, that fatigue is just a “normal” result of cancer and cancer treatment. However, the causes of cancer-related fatigue are varied, and there are some practical strategies that can help you cope.
Causes of Cancer Fatigue
Though fatigue is common among cancer patients, each individual’s experience can be unique and arise from different sources. Some of the primary contributors to cancer fatigue include:
- Cancer itself: The disease can lead to significant changes in your body. For example, some cancers release proteins called cytokines, which are believed to contribute to fatigue. Additionally, certain cancers may increase your body’s energy requirements, weaken muscles, or affect vital organs.
- Cancer treatment: Treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and immunotherapy take a toll on your body. Fatigue is a common result of the collateral damage these treatments cause to healthy cells and tissue, and these treatments can also have other effects on the body that lead to fatigue.
- Anemia: Cancer treatments can destroy red blood cells, leading to anemia. Furthermore, if cancer has infiltrated your bone marrow, it can interfere with blood cell production or cause blood loss, both of which contribute to fatigue.
- Pain: Chronic pain is common in cancer patients, and this pain leads to reduced activity, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, and emotional distress, which all contribute to feeling fatigued.
- Emotions: The emotional burden of a cancer diagnosis, including anxiety, stress, and depression, can exacerbate feelings of exhaustion.
- Poor nutrition: Cancer patients often require more nutrients than usual, but treatment-related side effects like nausea and vomiting can make it challenging to maintain a healthy diet.
- Medications: Some medications, particularly pain relievers, can contribute to fatigue.
- Hormonal changes: Certain cancer treatments, like hormone therapy, can cause hormonal fluctuations that result in significant fatigue.
Managing Cancer Fatigue
Dealing with cancer fatigue can be challenging, but there are several strategies that may help. Speak to your healthcare team for recommendations, which may include a combination of medical interventions and self-care techniques. Here are some of your options:
- Medical Interventions
If your fatigue derives from factors that can be addressed through medication, your doctor can recommend or prescribe a remedy. For example, blood transfusions or medications to stimulate red blood cell production may be considered if you are anemic. For other causes of fatigue, such as depression or lack of sleep, your doctor may also recommend therapy or medications that can help, such as antidepressants, sleep aids, pain medications, or stimulants.
- Rest and Energy Conservation
Good rest is essential for healthy bodies and even more critical for the sick. When it is difficult to get a whole night’s sleep, it is vital to take short naps throughout the day so that you get sufficient rest to help your body heal. As a corollary to this, conserving your decreased energy by focusing on accomplishing only your most important activities is essential. Prioritize your tasks and use your limited energy wisely. Do not hesitate to seek help from others, and recognize that it is okay not to keep up with the things that you used to be able to do when you were healthy. There is no reason to feel guilty or inadequate during this time of treatment or healing.
- Nutrition is Key
When your system is weakened and your appetite is reduced, it is more important than ever that the food you consume is nutritious. Consume a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients and focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts with cancer-fighting benefits. If side effects like nausea and vomiting make eating difficult, find ways to counteract the nausea by discussing it with your doctor. Supplements like ginseng, ginger, or other natural herbs and remedies can sometimes alleviate fatigue and nausea, and supplements can often supply essential nutrients when consuming whole foods is difficult. Unless you get adequate nutrition, your body will not be able to overcome fatigue even when you feel relatively well. If you do decide to try supplements, consult with your doctor to find out if any will interact adversely with your medications.
- Exercise Can Help, Even if Energy is Low
It is often difficult to generate enthusiasm for exercise when feeling fatigued, but failing to exercise can worsen the problem by reducing muscle mass and stamina. Push yourself to engage in moderate physical activity like walking, biking, or swimming. Alternatively, some cancer patients respond better to physical activities like yoga. Regular exercise can help preserve current energy levels, so start slowly and gradually increase your activity.
Coping with cancer fatigue is multifaceted, but you don’t have to face it alone. Your healthcare team at Beacon Clinic’s cancer practice can provide valuable guidance and support. By addressing the underlying causes of your fatigue, adopting a consistent program of self-care strategies, and seeking medical interventions when necessary, you can regain control over your life and improve your overall well-being while on your cancer journey. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Beacon Clinic if persistent fatigue is affecting your daily life; together, we can find the most effective solutions for you. Contact Beacon Clinic today.