Tips to cope with cancer fatigue


Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment. It can be acute (short lasting) or chronic (long lasting). It can be difficult to understand how tired someone having cancer treatment sometimes feels. Whilst a child may not seem to be doing much to make them tired, their body is working hard to fight the cancer and manage the effects of the treatment. Children can become exhausted and have no energy. Fatigue can sometimes carry on long after treatment has finished. Plan appropriate rest periods during the low energy times. Children having radiotherapy to the brain usually want to sleep a lot. Doctors call this somnolence.

How does it feel?

People can feel fatigue in different ways. People with cancer fatigue describe feeling weak, exhausted, sleepy, drowsy, weary, confused or impatient. Some describe it as a ‘whole body experience’ and say they ‘just cannot move’. Others have tired or sore limbs and feel breathless, even after only a little activity.

For many people, cancer fatigue is unlike anything they have had before. It can be difficult to describe and hard for others to understand.

The following may help to manage fatigue and sleepiness:

  • Minimise the number of visitors at any one time (visitors are great but too many can be exhausting too!).
  • Offer food and drink regularly to keep up energy levels.
  • Allow periods of rest.
  • Encourage low energy activities such as reading, watching TV.
  • Help with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, and eating) during very low energy times.
  • Avoid outings that require walking long distances/crowds and busy places.
  • Create a calm, comfortable and reassuring environment both at home and in hospital.
  • Try to do things that make your child happy. The joy he will get from laughing with friends or playing with a dog may give your child a boost.
  • Listening to music, reading and meditating are not physically tiring and may help your child to relax
  • A physical therapist can create an exercise program to increase your child’s strength and endurance.
  • If your child’s appetite is poor, offer healthy foods every two to three hours while awake. Try to make each snack as nutritious as possible. Talk to your nutritionist for ideas.

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