Fatigue for a cancer patient means feeling tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common side effects of the disease and its treatment.
Cancer fatigue can have many causes. Among them are effects of the cancer treatment, inadequate nutrition, lack of exercise, and the cancer itself.
Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can all contribute to a reduced quality of functioning on a temporary basis. This run-down feeling can persist for some time, even after therapy is completed.
Fatigue may also be a reaction to the stress and depression of having cancer. Low blood counts, pain, and sleep difficulties may be other contributing factors.
It sounds like a paradox, but research shows that too much rest can make you more tired. Rest is important, but staying in bed for extended periods can cause wasting of muscle tissues, producing loss of performance.
"Some patients describe the unpredictable sensation as feeling suddenly like hitting a brick wall, or having a vacuum cleaner suck out all their energy," explains Sheila Marquez, RN, MSN, Nurse Navigator at John Muir Health. "This fatigue is real, and it's unlike any other feeling of tiredness. “
Negrete is a specialist in cancer fatigue who belongs to a national organization focusing on this problem.
Carefully managing your symptoms of fatigue will help you adjust to your treatment program and allow you to participate more fully in modified daily activities.
"Carefully managing your symptoms of fatigue will help you adjust to your treatment program and allow you to participate more fully in modified daily activities," Negrete points out. "When the patient feels better, the caregiver's role also becomes easier."
Clinical trials of new medications for cancer treatment gives patients hope that researchers may soon discover the mechanism causing fatigue.
There are antidotes for some of the most problematic side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea and low blood counts. Understanding that cancer-related fatigue has a limited time frame may help caregivers and colleagues to be more supportive.