"Fatigue" Is a Medical Condition For People with Cancer: Don't Ignore It!
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For most people, "fatigue" is a temporary condition -- something you feel after you wash the kitchen floor, or mow the lawn, and that goes away if you take a quick nap.
But for cancer patients, fatigue is a common medical condition. For someone with cancer, fatigue can be chronic (meaning it doesn't go away), and can severely affect their health and quality of life.
Unfortunately, many cancer patients don't talk to their doctor about fatigue, because they don't understand exactly what it is, or think that feeling tired from cancer or cancer treatment is "normal."
What Is Fatigue?
No one would be surprised to think of weakness or exhaustion as signs of fatigue. But there are other, less obvious indicators, too. "I just don't feel like myself" is a common statement made by cancer patients, especially if they are undergoing chemotherapy. Pain in your legs, or difficult climbing stairs or walking short distances, are both signs of fatigue. Fatigue can mean being short of breath after only light activity, like cooking a meal or taking a shower.
Fatigue can also affect the way you think and feel -- it can cause you to have difficulty concentrating, lose interest in your pastimes, and make you impatient. If any of these are true, you may be suffering from fatigue as a medical condition.
What Causes Fatigue?
One of the most common causes of fatigue is chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy can lower the number of red cells in your blood, which carry oxygen throughout your body and give you energy. Having fewer red blood cells means that your body gets "out of breath" when you do something even mildly strenuous. Chemotherapy (or general cancer pain) can also disrupt your eating or sleeping habits, both of which can result in fatigue.
Talk To Your Doctor
If you feel fatigue (or think you do), talk to your physician, nurse, or caregiver. Your medical team can provide you with helpful information to improve fatigue, or prescribe medications to treat any physical conditions ( like anemia due to chemotherapy ) that can be the cause of it.
In addition, there are several things you can do to lessen your fatigue, or help your medical team treat it.
What Can You Do On Your Own?
Everyone's experiences with fatigue and treatments are different. Some people can return to work or normal activity, while others cannot. Regardless of the severity of your fatigue, the ten tips can help you lessen your fatigue, or assist you in treating it:
1. Take several short naps or breaks, rather than one, long rest period.
2. Plan your day so that you have time to rest.
3. Take short walks or do some light exercise if possible -- some people find this decreases their fatigue.
4. Try easier or shorter versions of the activities you enjoy.
5. Eat as well as you can, and drink plenty of fluids.
6. Ask your family or friends to help you with tasks you find difficult or taxing.
7. Keep a diary of how you feel each day -- this will help you with planning your daily activities, and can help you and your medical team regulate any anti-fatigue medication you may be taking.
8. Join a support group, or seek help from an oncology social worker or counselor -- sharing your feelings with others can ease the burden of fatigue, and you can often learn coping hints from talking about your own situation.
9. Cultivate interests that can be less strenuous, like listening to music or reading.
10. Finally, remember that you don't have to do everything - - save your energy for things you find most important.