Tips for Fighting Cancer Fatigue


Two-time cancer survivor talks about managing fatigue.

Are you tired or are you fatigued? Is it cancer-related? How do you even know for sure? Regardless, sometimes I just want the energy to hop up in the morning and start my day like did before I got breast cancer and melanoma.

Unfortunately, there are many days I wake to find myself still tired. I want more energy simply to live life. Do you struggle with fatigue, too?

Personally, I am still working on fatigue after more than seven years from my first cancer. I suspect my fatigue has several causes. I haven’t kept up with healthy eating and exercise. I am older. I have sleep apnea that seems only partially resolved with my CPAP machine. I carry that lingering fear of recurrence in the back of my mind and it wears me down, and I recently lost my mom due to advanced metastatic breast cancer. There are lots of factors that can wear a person down and they seem to come with greater frequency as we age. I try not to find this depressing. I try to see it as a challenge. Hey, with age, we have learned to be clever, right?

Take care of the basics. So, the first thing is to see the doctors and have the tests run, including a sleep study. It never hurts to start with the basics. Ask the doctor to run tests, all the tests, including thyroid tests. Ask to see specialists if you suspect the answer is medical, but the generalist doesn’t find something with the basic tests.

Next, get rest. With so much going on, we need good rest to push the reset button for our minds, emotions and bodies. If you are not giving yourself the gift of enough time to sleep, you are part of the problem rather than the solution.

My sleep study determined that I have sleep apnea. I stop breathing about twenty times per hour every night. With my CPAP machine, I stop breathing less, but I am still tired. Sleep apnea is more common than most people realize.

Sleep apnea can also be related to weight gain (yes, I struggle with my weight), but it isn’t always related to being overweight. There can be structural issues with the airways or brain issues that affect breathing.

Be persistent. Most people with sleep apnea report better rest when they use their CPAP. I am in the very small percent that don’t feel more rested, even though it helps me medically. That said, I will keep working on solutions to my fatigue. Be stubborn if you are tired. Keep working on finding answers that work for you. Do not quit.

Look at the light studies about how the type of light before bed affects energy level. Try reducing screen time (television, computers, phones and tablets) toward bedtime.

Figure out what helps you and what doesn’t. I can constantly complain or I can keep working on my fatigue. You can make a choice to keep working on your fatigue.

We are survivors. We are still here and we are still fighting. Be gentle but persistent with yourself. Take naps. Remember coffee is high in antioxidants. I exercise by taking walks when I can. Try to make healthy eating choices. I focus on nature when I need a break, too. When too tired, I use distraction like a movie or a sit-down project or a book to get my mind to a calmer place. All of these things help. None of these have solved the lingering fatigue completely.

Please try to pull yourself forward every day. Most of all, please consider practicing gratitude—for your own sake.

Focus at least some of your attention on things every day that you appreciate. Life is not perfect and right now we are here!

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