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Side Effects of Treatment

Fatigue: Causes and Management
Sharon Thompson, RN, OCN , Oncology Nurse
Up to 96% of people undergoing chemotherapy say they felt fatigued while being treated.

What is fatigue?
Fatigue versus general tiredness is not easily relieved by sleep or rest. It has been described as total exhaustion, a deep weariness taking over or your whole body feeling weak.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Fatigue is more than being constantly tired. Fatigue interferes with your everyday activities. Some patients report difficulty in walking, concentrating and making decisions. Many people do not feel like themselves.

What causes fatigue?
There is no one single cause. Possibilities include cancer therapy and treatment side effects, stress, changes in the body's production of energy and availability of nutrients. It can be any one of these or a combination. Changes in sleep, daily activities, eating habits, anxiety, depression and anemia can also contribute to feeling fatigued.

Suggestions to help you control your fatigue.

  • Reassess your goals. You may not be able to do what you did before you got sick. Stop focusing on what you could do and refocus on what you can do. This will help lessen the feelings of anxiety or guilt you feel about not still being able to be super woman.
  • Be selective about what you choose to do.
  • Make your goals realistic and achievable.
  • Create a daily activities list. List what you must do in one column. In the other put what you would like to accomplish. Do what you must and only do things from your second list if you feel up to it. If this is still overwhelming, choose smaller goals.
  • Learn to say no and delegate. Ask for help. Laundry, carpooling, grocery shopping, house cleaning. Friends and family are more than happy to help. They usually do not know how they can. By telling them exactly what you need it makes them feel good that they can help.
  • Think about something other than your illness. Go for a ride, go to a movie, see friends. Do things you really enjoy doing and that bring you pleasure. Many people report reading, listening to music, meditation, yoga, visualization exercises helped them.
  • Eat well and drink plenty of fluids. Try eating smaller meals more often.
  • Keep a daily journal of your energy levels. After a few days review it and see if you see any patterns. Minimize the things you find most challenging and keep the ones that make you feel good. It is all about choices.
  • Learn to pace yourself. Do not do too much when you are feeling good. Always keep some energy in reserve.
  • Get plenty of rest but do not overdo. Fatigue is a vicious cycle. The more tired you are the less you do. The less you do, the more tired you become. (See Exercise and Stress Reduction.) Short periods of rest are better. If you want to nap, take a cat nap. They will help you conserve energy.

Exercise Can Boost Energy During Treatment
Sean Patrick , OvCa Survivor, Former Fitness Instructor
Numerous studies on cancer patients and exercise suggest that exercise during cancer treatment boosts energy, enhances the ability to cope and improves quality of life. A growing number of doctors are encouraging their cancer patients to participate in an exercise program.

What type and how long depends on you. Swimming (if you do not have a port), biking and walking are among the most frequently recommended forms of exercise. For most people walking is ideal. You don't need any equipment except a good pair of walking shoes. You can do it anywhere, you do not need to go to a gym. And it is convenient, you can walk any time you want. If you live in a hot climate or the weather is bad, you can shift your walking to indoors at your favorite mall.

Some doctors are encouraging their patients to participate in low level weight training. It helps maintain muscle tone, strengthens joints and stimulates bone density. Regular weight bearing exercise can help protect against cachexia (muscle wasting and malnutrition) sometimes a side effect of the disease.

Yoga is another exercise that is high on many doctors' lists. In addition to offering physical strengthening, it balances mind, body and spirit. Many patients report that it helps alleviate any stress or anxiety they may be feeling.

One of the major side effects of cancer treatment is fatigue. It is a vicious cycle - the more tired you become the more you don't do anything. The more you don't do anything,the more tired you become. Believe it or not, exercise helps break this cycle and energizes you.

It has been found that people who exercise during treatment cope better emotionally and feel much better physically than those who don't. While exercise is important, it is important to set realistic goals. Start slowly and feel comfortable with what you are doing. If you are starting an exercise program for the first time - 10 minutes of walking might be all you can do. On the other hand, if you have exercised regularly, test what you can do during treatment. But don't be disappointed if you can't exercise at your prior levels.

If you miss several days because of the impact of your treatment, that's okay. How much time you do it does not matter. The fact that you do it, does.

Before starting any exercise program be sure and discuss it with your doctor.

Constipation (CancerNet)

Delirium (CancerNet)

Radiation-Induced Intestinal Problems: Enteritis (CancerNet)

Fatigue (CancerNet)

Fever, Chills and Sweats (CancerNet)

Itching (CancerNet)

Nausea and Vomiting (CancerNet)

Sleep Problems (CancerNet)

Swelling (CancerNet)

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