Fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment. Cancer-related fatigue feels different from other kinds of fatigue: it is often more severe, lasts longer, and isn’t relieved by sleep. In a word, it can be overwhelming. Generally, cancer-related fatigue diminishes over time, but that may take up to a year. Talk with your health care provider about your fatigue.
Power snacks. Eating small meals or a snack every three to four hours will help keep your energy level constant. Try 1/4 cup of nuts or seeds, whole grain crackers topped with 2 teaspoons of peanut butter, or 2 tablespoons of hummus as a dip with baby carrots to boost energy. Eat more when you’re feeling well.
Cut the Caffeine. Caffeine-containing beverages and products – such as coffee, colas, and chocolate – can mask your fatigue. Instead, drink green or black tea. Tea has half the caffeine of coffee and is rich in cancer-fighting compounds called polyphenols.
Fluids, fluids, fluids. Dehydration can add to cancer-related fatigue. Your body excretes approximately 3 quarts of water each day. You can get approximately 1 quart of your water needs through food if you eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. The other 2 quarts (8 to 10 cups) should come from fluids, including pure water. Focus on whole foods. Stock your kitchen with fiber-rich whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Whole foods provide optimum energy. Foods high in simple sugars – such as cookies, candies, and processed white flour – rob your body of vital nutrients that fuel energy processes. Use healthy convenience foods for quick meals and snacks. Make a no-fuss salad with bagged organic greens, or use frozen vegetables for an easy stir-fry. Prepare and freeze meals ahead whenever possible. Label and date them before freezing.
Keep moving. Physical activity can relieve stress that adds to cancer-related fatigue. Buddy up with a friend to take walks on a regular basis. Or break your activity goal into small, manageable segments: take a 10-minute walk at lunch, or use light-resistance weights or bands for spot strength training while you watch television.
Accept help. Give yourself permission to let friends and family members help you. Prepare a list of tasks that friends can do so you can have them ready when they ask. Delegate heavy work. Arrange for a meal train, a personal chef, or a food delivery service. Use grocery delivery services and restaurant delivery in your area.
Get organized. Spread your tasks over the week. Make a list of when shopping, organized by store aisle. If you work, organize your clothes the night before.
Keep it simple. Take a shower rather than a bath; it requires less energy. Use warm water rather than hot water because it conserves your body’s energy. Use a terrycloth rove after a shower rather than towels. Bring your foot to your knee when putting on shoes so you don’t need to lean over. Wear slip-on shoes. Wear button-down shirts rather than pullovers.
Schedule naps. Take short rest breaks in the morning and afternoon, even if you don’t’ feel tired. A 15- or 20- minute nap will boost energy. But balance your naps with adequate sleep and activity. Too much sleep can drain energy.
Breathe and relax. Experiment with breathing exercises, stress-reduction techniques, or meditation if you’re having trouble relaxing or sleeping. Try watching funny movies. Call Cancer Lifeline or a similar organization for information about relaxation and stress-management classes in your area.