Ask the expert: What can I do to help with my cancer-related fatigue?

Our expert looks at ways to help with fatigue and explains the importance of resting mind as well as body.

Raking leaves

Not everyone will go on to experience long-standing fatigue, but cancer-related fatigue can affect anyone and at any stage - before diagnosis, during and after treatment. 

A key to managing cancer-related fatigue is having a balanced, consistent and sustainable routine. When people have a good day, they are tempted to do more. The trouble is that this often results in the fatigue getting worse. This boom or bust approach is not helpful and can make people feel that fatigue is taking over their life, or taking control away. 

The three Ps approach may help - Plan, Prioritise and Pace yourself. Consider how much energy you’ve got and how much energy it takes to do each activity you want to do and then use this to help plan your day. If you don’t have enough energy to do everything you’d like to, think about your priorities; consider what can wait for another day and what can be delegated. And then break down tasks into manageable chunks and plan regular rest breaks

3 P's - fatigue

Research suggests that physical activity can help. This can be any activity, such as walking the dog, gardening, housework or an exercise class.

People often ask whether it is helpful to have a nap in the day or whether they should push through the fatigue. During treatment, a nap may be helpful as the body may need additional rest. But for people who are managing long-term cancer-related fatigue, napping in the day is not ideal, especially if it affects their ability to sleep at night.

It is important to rest the mind as well as body. This may be easier said than done for people dealing with lymphoma and the emotional impact it can bring. If this is the case, a relaxation technique, meditation, mindfulness or deep breathing may be helpful. If you are interested in something like this, ask your medical team if there is a programme that might be helpful. 

Unfortunately there are no medical treatments that can help with cancer-related fatigue. Vitamins or supplements can help with a nutritional deficiency, such as low iron. Speak with your medical team if you are considering taking any supplements to check it is safe to do so.  

This is an edit from an article 'Talking about cancer-related fatigue' published in issue 107 of our Lymphoma Matters magazine.

Thanks to Nikie Catchpool, Consultant Occupational Therapist and Macmillan Professional and Joint Clinical Lead at the Bath Centre for Fatigue Services.

8 January 2020