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Cancer-Related Fatigue: Myth or Reality?

Fatigue affects many people, but cancer related fatigue is a very different malady.
The Dictionary defines fatigue as extreme tiredness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness. Fatigue is a very common complaint. It’s important to remember fatigue is a symptom, not a disease. Many illnesses can result in the complaint of fatigue. They can be physical, psychological or a combination of the two. Often, symptoms of fatigue have a gradual onset. The affected person may not be aware of how much energy they have lost until comparing their ability to complete tasks from one time frame to another. They may presume their fatigue is due to aging or perhaps other reasons. They may ignore symptoms until they become debilitating and may delay seeking medical care.
What’s the difference between regular fatigue and cancer-related fatigue? Fatigue is being tired – physically, mentally and emotionally. It means having less energy to do the things you need or want to do as you go about your daily life. Usually, regular fatigue can be remedied by periods of rest and relaxation. It doesn’t usually last for long periods of time. Cancer-related fatigue is different. Cancer-related fatigue is worse and causes more distress. People describe it as feeling of weakness, listlessness, being drained or wiped out. Cancer-related fatigue makes it difficult to function. Some may feel too tired to eat, walk to the bathroom or even perform simple tasks. It can be hard to think, as well as move your body. Rest doesn’t help it go away. For some people, this kind of fatigue causes more distress than pain, nausea, vomiting or depression. Cancer-related fatigue is worse than everyday fatigue. It lasts longer, and sleep doesn’t make it better. It’s unpredictable. People describe it as overwhelming, affecting every part of their lives.
According to an article by the National Institute of Health, “Fatigue is one of the most common adverse effects of cancer that might persist for years after treatment completion in otherwise healthy survivors. Cancer-related fatigue causes disruption in all aspects of quality of life and might be a risk factor of reduced survival. The prevalence and course of fatigue in patients with cancer have been well characterized and there is growing understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms. Inflammation seems to have a key role in fatigue before, during, and after cancer-treatment.”
Some symptoms of cancer-related fatigue, according to the American Cancer Society are:
·         A constant feeling of tiredness that doesn’t ever go away or get better
·         Being more tired than usual before, during, or after activities
·         Feeling too tired to perform normal routine tasks
·         Feeling general weakness or lethargy
·         Lacking energy
·         Being tired even after a good night’s sleep
·         Inability to concentrate or focus
·         Inability to remember
·         Being sad, irritable or depressed
·         Easily frustrated or angered
·         Trouble sleeping/insomnia
·         Difficulty moving arms or legs

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
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