Tips From a Cancer Fatigue Survivor


Two-time cancer survivor offers help for fatigue, including fatigue that is months and years out from active treatment

Sometimes I think there are things, like grief and fatigue, that get better so gradually over time, but are hard to realize they’ve gotten better. And, honestly, sometimes fatigue comes from more than one source, right?

When I talk a doctor about my fatigue, sometimes the doctor nods with sympathy and empathy and then simply sends me on my way. The tests and blood work don’t seem to support my complaint. I don’t blame the doctors when there isn’t something specific for them to treat. Still, I am tired, and as I have said before, just plain tired of being tired.

We all know that fatigue is a common lingering side effect of cancer treatment. At seven years out, I have talked to other breast cancer patients at least that far out who also still have fatigue. What can be done?

Here are my thoughts:

I no longer beat myself up for being tired. I am just tired. I don’t blame myself or call myself lazy. Fatigue isn’t a character flaw! I don’t have to add an emotional component to the physical symptom. It is OK to do something that requires less energy for a while when I feel that way.

Sometimes I am just dehydrated. Once again, it may have been a day where I forgot to drink enough water. I like mine at room temperature because it is easier for me to get it down quickly without “brain freeze.” I am still surprised at how often I feel better a little while after having 16 ounces of water.

The further out I get from cancer, the more likely it is for me that poor eating choices have crept back into my behaviors. Am I tired from cancer treatment or tired from rebounding from a sugar rush? Sometimes I need to be honest with myself about the cause of my fatigue.

I have decided that maybe in my case, it is less important to worry about where the exhaustion comes from. At this point (other than a recurrence) does it really matter whether it is from the chemotherapy, radiation, hormone changes, surgeries or another issue?

Honestly, I think some of my own fatigue from the ongoing doctor appointments, stress and fear of cancer recurrence. It may be a combination of things. I don’t know. I am going to let go of the “why.”

I do try to be gentle with myself—still a concept I am trying to learn. I get plenty of sleep at night. I pray, a lot. I take the naps. I take breaks. I drink coffee (high in antioxidants plus I recently read something like “Behind every successful person is a lot of coffee.”)

I know my fatigue is improved when I exercise. I exercise by taking walks when I make the time to do it. I meditate and focus on nature as well. I am not shy about using distraction like a fun event or a fast-paced movie or a simple project or a good book to get my mind to a place away from the fatigue.

The truth is that over the years, all of these thoughts help, and none of them have completely resolved the lingering fatigue I still sometimes have. I will continue to try hard to pull myself forward every day. I am very happy and grateful to be here. How do address your fatigue? Has it improved with added time out from diagnosis and treatment?

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