Are you experiencing extreme tiredness as a side effect of your breast cancer treatment? If so, you’re not alone.
Extreme tiredness, also known as fatigue, is one of the most common and distressing side effects of breast cancer treatment. Depending on its cause, fatigue can last from three to 12 months, or even longer after your surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy has finished.
Many people describe their experience of fatigue as an almost total lack of energy. They say it’s like feeling extremely tired all the time. Fatigue can make it difficult to do daily tasks and activities.
We still don’t know exactly what causes fatigue after breast cancer treatment, but experts believe it could be a result of some of the following:
a side effect of breast cancer treatment
coping with pain
anaemia (lack of red blood cells)
stress, anxiety or depression
travelling for treatment
a side effect of other medications that may be used during treatment, such as drugs to prevent nausea or reduce pain.
Even though your normal response to fatigue will be to rest, it’s important that you try to find the right balance between rest and regular activity.
Tips to help manage fatigue:
Incorporate basic exercise, such as walking, into your day. Research shows that exercise, such as walking, can help to reduce fatigue caused by treatments.
Eat a well-balanced diet. Talking to a dietitian can be helpful to develop an individual healthy eating plan.
Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Pace yourself. Plan just one activity each day and give yourself some rest days to recover.
Accept offers of help from those around you.
Try to organise practical help at home before you start treatment, such as help with childcare, housework or making meals.
Give your body time to recover after treatment. Try to work up to your usual level of daily activity rather than stepping straight back into old routines.
Take time to rest throughout the day between activities, but limiting the length of naps so that you are still able to sleep at night.
If you are working, talk to your employer about any adjustments you can make on the days your fatigue is at its worst. You may be able to work from home, take leave or temporarily decrease the hours you work.
Discuss how you feel with a support group or counsellor. You can find a support group near you on BCNA's Service Finder or call the Cancer Council on 13 11 20.
Join BCNA’s Online Network to connect with others affected by breast cancer.
You can also discuss your fatigue with your medical treatment team. They may be able to suggest approaches to help reduce or manage fatigue.
Visit My Journey, BCNA’s online tool for information tailored to your diagnosis. My Journey has a Symptom Tracking tool that you can use to help you record your symptoms, what works for you and what doesn’t.
Join our Online Network if you think that talking to others online and sharing experiences will help.
Contact BCNA’s Helpline on 1800 500 258 between 9.00 am and 5.00 pm AEST Monday to Friday, for information about the services and support that may be available for you and your family.
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