COPING WITH CHEMOTHERAPY: Fatigue
Posted: July 6, 2021
Chemotherapy, a medication used to attack and kill malignant cancer cells, is an effective method to treat cancer. However, these drugs are very powerful and usually cause some undesirable side effects, including nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, low blood counts, and sore throat & mouth. These side effects do not occur all at once and can appear in varying degrees at different times within the treatment cycles. Here is some helpful information regarding fatigue following your chemotherapy treatment at Cancer Care Northwest.
What is fatigue?
The problem of fatigue is real. Concern about fatigue is often ignored or minimized because it is not viewed as life-threatening, but fatigue is a real problem. It is characterized by a general feeling of tiredness, weariness, weakness, exhaustion, or lack of energy; and it can be caused by numerous factors in your life.
There are two types of fatigue:
- Acute fatigue can occur quickly but lasts a shot time. It is usually associated with illness and some types of chemotherapy. You can help relieve acute fatigue by limiting your activities and getting plenty of rest.
- Chronic fatigue is more serious and can last a longer period of time. It is usually due to an accumulation of physical, emotional, or situational factors and is not as readily relieved or eliminated as acute fatigue. Chronic fatigue can rob your body of precious energy that is needed for your health and well-being, making it difficult for you to function in roles that give meaning and value to life.
It is important to remember that either kind of fatigue, acute or chronic, is your body’s message to conserve energy.
What causes fatigue?
Sometimes fatigue is related to your chemotherapy treatment. Expect fatigue to be a side effect of certain drugs, especially Interferon and Interleukin, but it can also occur for a variety of other reasons. In addition to the chemotherapy drugs themselves, fatigue can result from physical, emotional or situational causes.
- Physical causes: Accumulation of cells destroyed by chemotherapy or radiation, low red blood cell count, poor nutrition, disruption in sleep or rest patterns, pain, constipation, diarrhea.
- Emotional causes: Depression, fear, anxiety related to diagnosis or treatment, coping with situations that cause stress, feelings of dependence or loss of control.
- Situational causes: Diagnosis of cancer, anticipation of treatment, loss of control over life, change in quality of life (impact on work, play and finances).
What can I do to cope with fatigue?
Recognizing the source is the first step in coping with fatigue. You need to give yourself permission to rest whenever you feel tired.
During the day, several short naps can be refreshing and can give your energy level a boost. Mild exercise, even a short walk, can be energizing. Remember not to overdo. It is important to keep a balance between activity and rest. At night go to bed earlier or sleep later in the morning if possible. If pain is contributing to fatigue, inform your doctor or nurse. You may need an adjustment of your pain medications. By all means, pain should be controlled.
Vitamins and minerals are helpful to increase your energy level, but should be taken along with a well-balanced diet of leafy, green vegetables and foods with high iron and protein content, such as meats, liver, organ meats, cheese, seafood, yogurt, cereals, nuts, and legumes. These foods will increase your blood’s iron and protein level, which will improve your energy. You can also include nutritional drinks to supplement your diet such as Ensure or Boost. Eating a healthy, balanced diet aids your digestive tract and can help you feel better overall. Constipation and diarrhea also can contribute to excessive fatigue. Each of these is a problem that needs to be managed, please ask your provider for handouts on constipation and/or diarrhea.
For emotional and situational causes of fatigue, try to focus your attention away from your treatment and the disease. Relaxation, meditation, quiet reflection and visual imagery are very helpful. Distractions such as reading or listening to music can help you relax and turn your thoughts away from the disease.
Communicate with your family or caregivers about what is bothering you concerning your disease, treatment, or life in general. Do not carry this burden alone! Sometimes loss of control, disease process, and change in quality of life can cause you to experience changes in personality, mood or temperament. Family members should be encouraged to notify the nurse or doctor if they notice dramatic changes.
- Avoid caffeine after 6 p.m. (coffee, teas, carbonated drinks, chocolate, etc.)
- Sleep on an incline or use extra pillows to prop yourself up to increase the efficiency of your oxygen intake.
The diagnosis of cancer can be devastating and make you feel a loss of control, but maintaining your usual life patterns as much as possible will help you feel more in control. Consider simplifying your life by prioritizing your tasks and asking for extra help from your friends and family to do routine chores, run errands, or take care of children. Remember, “You may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have to have you.” Realize that fatigue is a real problem. Whether acute or chronic, it is an expected side effect of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Be confident that your energy level will increase in the weeks to months after your treatment has ended.
We’re Here for You
Be sure to ask your CCNW doctor or nurse if you have any questions or concerns. Side effects from your cancer treatment
can be successfully managed with open communication between you and your CCNW oncologist. Because you and CCNW are a team — we are here for you and want to help in any way we can.