Cancer-Related Fatigue Can Be Incapacitating

Last updated: October 2022

Everyone gets tired and usually, a good night’s sleep will solve the problem. However, fatigue is a daily lack of energy, excessive whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep.1 This is exactly what I experienced during my six months of chemotherapy.

Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) can be described as paralyzing. For me, it was incapacitating, occurring within days of chemotherapy and improving a week before my next scheduled chemotherapy treatment. The exact cause of cancer-related fatigue is unknown. It may be related to both the disease process and treatments including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Other factors may include anemia, altered nutrition, medications, pain, stress and depression.1

How I deal with my fatigue

In my experience, the extreme fatigue prevented me from holding my teaching position as I was forced to take a leave of absence. As a health care professional, I explored all options to deal with this unrelenting fatigue. Strategies included:

Energy Conservation

Frequent rest periods, naps no longer than thirty minutes as this can interfere with sleeping at night.

Delegate when possible

Allow family and friends to help. Sometimes things happen for a reason. At the time of my chemotherapy, my husband lost his job. While concerning, it turned into a tremendous help. He prepared meals, drove me to appointments and provided a great deal of support and understanding.

I can remember “feeling as though I had done a full day’s work”, after taking a shower and needed to rest.

Adequate Nutrition

Cancer-related fatigue is often made worse if you are not eating enough or not eating the right foods. If family or friends are not available, explore available community resources. (i.e. Meals on Wheels) Drink at least 8 glasses of fluid per day to reduce dehydration. Fluids may include water, juice, milk, broth, and jello.1 Report any nausea to your physician as medications can be ordered to alleviate.


Research suggests that even healthy athletes forced to spend extended periods in bed or sitting in a chair develop feelings of anxiety, depression, weakness, and fatigue.1 Moderate exercise can help to prevent some of those feelings. I discovered exercise combined with relaxation techniques helpful towards the end of my chemotherapy. After receiving a flyer for an introductory yoga class, I decided to give it a try.

Yoga is an ancient practice based on Hindu philosophy. It uses a combination of postures, rhythmic breathing and meditation. Yoga represents the union or joining together of mind, body and spirit. It is a philosophy of creating an internal environment that promotes health and vitality. This is exactly what a cancer patient who has recently experienced the effects of chemotherapy needs. Chemotherapy destroys healthy cells, making the body’s immune system work overtime. That is why after undergoing chemotherapy, the patient feels extremely fatigued and deconditioned. The yoga poses helped me to replenish my energy, called prana. Yoga helped distribute the prana to areas that needed it most. The results were amazing. I began to feel more relaxed with gradually more energy. Research has supported these results in other patients.2

The exercise that you select such as walking or a stationary bike, should not make you feel sore, stiff or exhausted.

Relaxation Strategies

Some people enjoy using guided meditations that teach deep breathing or visualization as ways to help reduce stress and manage cancer fatigue.1 A friend knew I love the beach and shore, she gave me a CD of “sounds of the shore “which promoted a relaxing environment. Other activities that can help to distract your from your fatigue may include activities that don't require much physical energy like reading or listening to music.

It is important that you discuss with your physician your feelings of fatigue and how it is affecting your life. The above strategies were helpful and I hope together with your physician you can develop a healthful plan to manage.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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