By Amy Kalman, RN
“I’m so exhausted, I just can’t sleep enough” is a statement I hear from nearly every cancer patient I care for, regardless of diagnosis. Absence of energy can affect quality of life and your determination to complete treatment successfully.
This chronic fatigue, which tends to progressively worsen during the weeks of radiation therapy, can be caused by several factors, including anxiety and stress, medication side effects, anemia, pain and dietary habits. Here’s a list of some things that you can do to help improve and sustain your energy level.
Tip 1: It is important to let your Oncologist know about your lowered energy level. They may have medical and pharmacological therapies available to help restore your physical and emotional strength to a more acceptable level.
Tip 2: Design a schedule that includes a scheduled consistent waking time, frequent breaks for rest, and plenty of sleep. Brief naps (15-20 minutes), an option even if you must continue to work during treatment, can provide your body with a period of recovery time. You might consider speaking with your supervisor about arranging for an abbreviated schedule, the option to work from home, or taking medical leave.
Tip 3: Limit your daily to-do list! Allow your support team of family and close friends to assist you with responsibilities such as house cleaning, carpooling, and errands whenever possible. In addition to giving them the opportunity to contribute to your wellness and healing, it will permit you time for stress-reducing activities such as pursuing hobbies, listening to relaxation CD’s, meditation, and more.
Tip 4: Though it may sound counterintuitive, continue your normal fitness routine…at least as much as you can tolerate. If exercise is not a regular part of your agenda, consider a daily gentle walk with a friend or family member. The American Cancer Society promotes strength and fitness programs for improvement in quality of life, physical and psychological well-being for oncology patients.
Tip 5: Cut caffeine, nicotine and alcohol intake. According to the Oncology Nursing Society, these are key non-pharmacological therapies in improving energy level during cancer treatment. Caffeine is a stimulant and alcohol consumption causes rebound wakefulness as it wears off. According to the American Society for Radiation Oncology, smoking during radiation treatment can reduce your overall survival rate.
Tip 6: Communicate with an Oncology Social Worker at your treatment center. They can provide you and your family with resources available for coping with your diagnosis.
Though it may be difficult to imagine now, your energy will return gradually in the weeks after completion of a cycle of treatment.