Fatigue is a common issue faced by people living through and after cancer. I’ve not heard of a treatment out there that doesn’t cause fatigue. Along with the emotional weight carried from a diagnosis, you are pretty much guaranteed to suffer through it at one time or another.
Fatigue and tiredness are commonly mistaken, but are very different beasts. When you are tired you can sleep, and awake to begin a new day with a fresh tank of energy. Fatigue is starting your day half empty, and draining it further with each activity, with the possibility of running out completely and paying for it by several days in bed. Fatigue cannot be easily remedied but instead must be managed.
When I was severely anaemic as a result of my tumour I felt this like a head on collision with a train and spent around 6 weeks barely leaving my bed. I would have starved before finding the energy to get up and make food (thanks to my feeder I lived to tell the tale). Since then I have had varying degrees of fatigue, from both treatment and surgery. Along the way I have picked up some coping strategies which I would like to share with you today, in hope it helps you through your own bouts of fatigue.
- Always listen to your body: It’s important to be mindful of how you are feeling and knowing your limits. If you feel like you need to take it easy, DO. If you feel like you might not have the energy to do something, DON’T. Also, if you feel pretty good, absolutely go ahead and make the most of it, enjoying your good days is important and lifting your mood can in turn bring an energy boost. Just don’t over do it.
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself: If you aren’t feeling up to something, that is OK. It was a revelation to me when I started cancelling plans when I needed to, even if I had already paid (sounds insane I know!). You have to do what is best for you and your body at the time, and sometimes that means taking the hit on the cost of an exercise class or a ticket. Your friends will understand, and if they don’t, you need new friends. The amount of times meals out or activities have turned into friends coming round to my house, getting a take away and just relaxing. You need the flexibility to allow yourself to manage your daily life through fatigue, without any internal or external pressure and guilt.
- Always be prepared: Preparation is key! When you have the energy, make the most of it, quickly clean or cook bulk meals for freezing. Having tasty and healthy home cooked meals in the freezer that just need popping in the microwave has saved the day on countless occasions. I am always so grateful to past me when I’ve been feeling pants for a few days but still have something to eat and my house isn’t a total mess!
- Plan ahead: When making plans or arrangements for the coming weeks, I keep fatigue in my mind. Make sure to plan a down day or some resting time after something busy or active. Have a schedule that allows you time to recoup and the flexibility to change plans if needed.
- Ask for help: Sometimes extreme fatigue can’t be avoided or hits you out of the blue. At times like these it’s important to be able to ask for help. It can be asking friends or family to help with chores or cooking, or as simple and giving in to a Deliveroo and taking the pressure off.
- Exercise when you can: On days when you have the energy, take the opportunity to do some exercise. Listen to your body and do what you are capable of at the time, but definitely do something. Keeping up my pole fitness and yoga depending on my fatigue levels helped keep me sane. There are tons of benefits to exercising through cancer and treatment, see my previous blog post on the importance of being active with cancer.
- Have fun: most important!