There are many reasons why you may feel tired or even exhausted when you have cancer. Tiredness can be a side-effect of cancer treatments, a symptom of your cancer, or the result of problems with eating and sleeping.
Tiredness can make everyday activities, such as doing housework or the weekly food shop, more difficult than usual. However, there are ways you can make these day-to-day tasks easier.
- Prioritise the tasks you need to do.
- Spread tasks such as vacuuming or cleaning, out over the week, by doing a little bit each day.
- Do tasks sitting down when you can.
- Rest in between tasks and don’t rush them.
- Make a list of items you need from the shops before you go. Or try internet shopping instead.
- Ask for help with packing or carrying your bags when you’re at the shops.
- Store your cleaning items and equipment in easy-to-reach places.
- Cook simple meals that don’t need much preparation.
- Cook more than you need so you can freeze some for another day.
- Ask for help from friends or family.
There are other steps you can take to help deal with the tiredness of cancer.
- Take regular exercise that’s suitable for you. There’s evidence that this will reduce the impact of tiredness. Talk to your doctor or nurse about the type of exercise that’s right for you.
- Have plenty of rest but take care not to disrupt your night time sleep by taking naps during the day. It’s better to sit quietly rather than lie down.
- Enjoy a hobby that helps to build your concentration, such as crossword puzzles.
- Join a relaxation or support group.
Whether it’s your parents, siblings, children, grandparents or friends, a cancer diagnosis can affect everyone differently. There’s no right or wrong way to cope with cancer. It can help if you’re honest with your loved ones and keep them informed about how you’re feeling and the support you’d like.
Family and friends can be a great source of practical and emotional support. They can help you cook, take you to appointments and be there to talk to and look after you.
Your family will also need time to adjust to your diagnosis and the impact it will have on their lives as well as yours. Chat with loved ones about your treatment and recovery so they have realistic expectations of what to expect from you and your illness.
Here are some tips to help you talk to your friends and family about cancer.
- Talk to people in a way that suits you. This might mean face-to-face, on the phone, by email or letter.
- Introduce the subject of cancer slowly and let people ask questions.
- Don’t overload people with too much information. Tell people small chunks in simple, easy to understand language.
- Listen carefully to each other and don’t rush or interrupt if someone’s talking.
Feeling tired from your treatment, as well as attending regular hospital appointments, may mean you need help looking after children in your family.
Try to plan your time and conserve your energy for important events. Taking short breaks and getting some rest can be just what you need to get through a busy day. You may want to ask for help from friends and family or look into local nurseries, playgroups or after-school clubs.
Explain to your children why you may not be looking after them as much as usual and talk to them about your cancer. This can help them understand and make them feel less anxious. However, spending time with your children can often take your mind off your illness and help improve how you’re feeling. So take them for a bike ride or play a board game with them, or anything else that you enjoy doing together.
Being diagnosed with cancer is distressing for you and your family. An important part of cancer treatment is having support to deal with the emotional aspects of living with cancer. Specialist doctors and nurses who are experts in treating cancer can provide the support you need and may be able to visit you at home. Make sure you let your doctor or nurse know if you have any physical or emotional problems. They may be able to alter your treatment, provide advice, or let you know where you can go for more support. Your nurse can also put you in touch with support groups where you can meet people who may have similar experiences to you.
- Tadman M, Roberts D. Oxford handbook of cancer nursing. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2007:100
- Talking about your cancer. Macmillan. www.macmillan.org.uk, published 1 July 2012
- Helping children when a family member has cancer. American Cancer Society. Treatment. www.cancer.org, published 7 August 2012
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Reviewed by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Content Team, January 2015.
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