Beyond tired: Coping with cancer-related fatigue

woman holding her forehead

Having cancer or receiving a diagnosis of cancer can be a time of uncertainty.

Regardless of whether your cancer journey just began, or you have been a survivor for a number of years, you may have heard of or experienced cancer-related fatigue (CRF).

Feeling tired is something you and your doctor may have talked about during cancer treatment.

CRF feels different. It’s exhaustion so deep it saps all of your energy and strength.

And sleep, no matter how much of it you get, doesn’t make you feel refreshed.

CRF can often be a frustrating reality.

We'll break down each of the aspects of CRF – what is CRF, what causes CRF and tips and tricks to help navigate and cope.

What’s our take-home point? We are here to help.

The ReVital Cancer Rehabilitation program helps individuals with cancer and survivors take control of their CRF.

What is cancer-related fatigue?

The American Cancer Society describes cancer-related fatigue as:

“Feeling very weak, listless, drained, or “washed out” that may decrease for a while but then comes back. Some may feel too tired to eat, walk to the bathroom, or even use the TV remote. Rest might help for a short time but does not make it go away. For some people with cancer, this kind of fatigue causes more distress than pain, nausea, vomiting, or depression.”

You may feel that your fatigue is dismissed by others, but CRF is real.

CRF can be unpredictable and come on suddenly. You may notice that your energy levels are lower than those around you and you feel slower even doing the same activities as before. You could also experience your fatigue getting worse, not better.

As a person with cancer or cancer survivor you might wonder, “Is my level of fatigue my ‘new normal’?”

It doesn't have to be. We'll tackle this below.

What causes CRF?

While the underlying causes of CRF are not completely understood, experts think there are many factors that contribute to it.

Potential factors could be:

  • Inflammation and immune system working overtime
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, hormonal and immunotherapies and radiation
  • Pre-existing conditions contributing to severity
    • Chronic pain
    • Diabetes mellitus
    • Cardiac conditions
  • Decreased movement/physical activity impacting overall endurance and strength

Things to do to help cope with cancer fatigue

Even though CRF is thought of as a consequence to cancer and cancer treatment, there are things you can do to improve your fatigue and get back to doing what’s most meaningful.

  • Plan your day out ahead of time to allow the most important activities to take place when you have the most energy
  • Keep frequently used items in easily accessible places to prevent unnecessary use of energy
  • Journal activity levels to identify the tasks and time of day that are most fatiguing to assist in energy conservation planning
  • Consider delegating certain tasks or hiring professionals for more taxing tasks
  • Identify strategies to eliminate unnecessary effort

Cancer rehabilitation can help

ReVital therapists are certified in cancer rehabilitation. In other words, they are licensed clinicians who specialize in the effects of cancer and cancer treatment.

ReVital Cancer Rehabilitation therapists will work with you to develop an individualized plan to meet your goals. This could include a tailored exercise and physical activity program. It could also include ways to review your routines and adapt activities to give you the most energy for what you need and want to do.

If fatigue is interfering with your daily living, work, family time and other things you love, cancer rehab may help.

For more information, check out our Living Well Beyond Cancer webinar series.