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The Fatigue to End All Fatigues: Cancer Related Fatigue

by Jennifer Unterreiner, DPT, OCS, CLT (Certified Lymphedema Therapist)

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The alarm goes off in the morning and the first thing you think about is how soon you can go back to bed or take a nap. You get out of the shower and make breakfast, only to be so wiped out that you need to sit down and rest for a while. You made it to the grocery store, but the idea of needing to cook the food you just got is out of the question because you’re just too tired. The simplest of activities creates fatigue that's disproportionate to the demand and continues to persist beyond normal rest, recovery or 12 cups of coffee.


That is cancer-related fatigue.


Fatigue is the number one complaint patients have as a result of either their chemotherapy or radiation, and can persist for months or years beyond the completion of treatment. It's thought to be a result of many different things, from anemia to decreased energy production in the cells; from accumulation of inflammatory cells and processes compounding from each treatment to changes in metabolism, cellular production and hormonal regulation.


The good news is that there are things we can do to help manage the symptoms and improve overall function. Exercise has been shown to help in a few different ways, including decreasing inflammatory markers, improving energy production, improving cardiovascular efficiency and health, improving hormonal regulation and decreasing cellular stress.


The CDC recommends that 20-30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per day, both during and after completion of treatment, is enough to help combat and minimize the intensity and duration of many of the fatigue-related symptoms. Incorporating a short walk, spending some time gardening or swimming, going for a hike, dancing in your kitchen, taking a yoga class or doing some light weight lifting exercises, even a few times per week can all add up to meet the recommended quota of exercise. Staying consistent, also just a few times per week, can be enough to help support a healthy stress on both the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems to produce positive changes and minimize the intensity of fatigue-related symptoms.


Given that you may feel like you're already facing your own personal Everest, even 20 minutes per day can sound daunting. Taking 5 or 10 minutes periodically out of your day to do something positive can help you feel more like yourself. Doing so can also help put some of the stress and burden of the rest of your treatment in the background, even if only for a few minutes, to help remind yourself of all the wonderful things your body and mind are still capable of.


For more on physical therapy for patients with or post cancer diagnosis or treatment, please contact us for an appointment.


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