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How to manage fatigue when living with cancer

Do you feel endlessly exhausted - even when you are getting ample hours of night time rest?

You're not alone.

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of living with cancer, and it can have a big impact, both physically and emotionally.

The Royal Australian College of GPs estimates between 70 to 100 per cent of patients suffer cancer-related fatigue, which for many, presents as an unprecedented wave of exhaustion.

No matter how much rest you get, you can still be left feeling weak, lacking in energy and listless, as well as mentally and emotionally zapped.

Even simple things like preparing a meal or using the TV remote can loom as massive feats, cancer experts say.

“Some people find they can only do one or two things before feeling exhausted, when they would usually have been able to do many more tasks in a day,” according to Federal Government agency Cancer Australia.

“This can be very frustrating.”

Bouts of irritability and frustration as your reserves are worn down are normal parts of cancer-related fatigue, and may even dissuade you from continuing treatment like chemotherapy.

Cancer Australia says fatigue can plague survivors for months after treatment, making it difficult to carry on life as normal.

That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the signs of fatigue and address them early. Muscle aches and pains and difficulty concentrating can be less obvious symptoms. The good news is that as awareness rises about the toll of cancer-related fatigue, so too have the range of treatments and approaches to reduce it.

Our cancer experts at Hollywood Private Hospital can help put some strategies in place to address fatigue, and put you in the box seat to taking on the challenges of your cancer treatment

Here’s some of our best tips to start with: 

Get moving

It may feel counter-intuitive, but the evidence is undeniable - exercise is one of the best ways to combat many of the effects of living with cancer, including fatigue. Continue your daily walks or activities as best you can. 

You are what you eat

Even though your appetite may have subsided, you’ll need to ensure you are getting adequate nutrition. Eat well balanced meals, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid too much sugar and alcohol. Talk to one of our qualified Dietitians if you have any specific questions or concerns.

Talk to the cancer team

We are here to help. Ask about our wellness programs designed for our cancer patients. Simple ways to reduce stress includes listening to music, reading a book, relaxation and meditation. There’s no single cause of cancer-related fatigue, but researchers have found it can stem from multiple factors such as stress, treatments like chemotherapy, inflammation, medicine, sleeping issues and genetics.

Listen to your body

If you need an afternoon nap, take one! Take small frequent rests or breaks rather than a long break or sleep. Try and balance activity and rest. Set small manageable goals when planning your day but ensure rest periods are included.

Make simple lifestyle changes

Think of ways to save your energy and break your daily activities up into smaller tasks. This could entail sitting down to fold the washing, or buying pre-cut vegetables. If you are finding it difficult to shop, try online shopping. Many supermarket chains now offer an online service. And don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help. This is a time when you will need them the most.