A different kind of tired. Living with cancer fatigue

Wednesday 24 July, 2019


Susan, a Cancer Council volunteer and cancer survivor, experienced fatigue.

Cancer fatigue is different to feeling tired. You feel weak, drained, worn out and have trouble thinking clearly. It doesn’t always go away with rest and can leave you exhausted for a long time.

While most people find they feel better 6-12 months after treatment ends, for some people, fatigue can continue for a longer period of time.

Managing fatigue with your health care team is an important part of cancer care before, during and after treatment.

Tips for managing fatigue

The best way to manage fatigue will depend on your individual situation, but the following general tips may help you to manage day to day:

  • Plan a loose daily schedule or routine based on how you are feeling.
  • Save your energy for what you want or need to do most.
  • Pace yourself. Try to attend to one thing at a time and include regular short breaks throughout the day. Rest when you need to.
  • Eat as well as possible, drink lots of water, and avoid smoking and alcohol.
  • Be physically active – ask your health care team how to exercise safely for your situation.
  • Try relaxation and meditation techniques.
  • If you can, ask family, friends or neighbours to help you.
  • Listen to the podcast The Thing About Cancer for tips on how to manage fatigue, sleep and cancer.
  • Your local council or social worker can put you in touch with organisations for help at home (such as house cleaning, meals or shopping). Sometimes these services are free.
  • Remember fatigue usually gets better over time.

Fatigue and Cancer provides practical advice for managing daily activities, explains how exercise can help, addresses common problems around sleep and lets you know where to get support. 

Susan’s experience

Susan, a Cancer Council volunteer and cancer survivor, helped review Fatigue and Cancer and shares her own experience.

“I thought all I had to do was get through the treatment and I would be fine,” Susan said.

“I didn’t realise how huge an impact the treatment would have on my body. Positivity is helpful, but the reality was extremely difficult for me. I had to accept I was dealing with fatigue and be very patient with how slow the process was.”

Things that helped:

  • Before treatment, I called Cancer Council on 13 11 20 and spoke to the cancer nurses, who helped me enormously with my questions.
  • Whatever help people offered; I took. I had a roster for people to take me to appointments and friends would drop meals in. I couldn’t go out at night, so a friend took me out in the mornings instead.
  • Through Cancer Council’s Cancer Connect program, I was also able to speak to a volunteer who had a similar story.
  • Friends helped with exercise, like yoga, and I did a guided meditation every day. It helped to reconnect with the things I liked doing before treatment.

Susan yoga

Susan found excerise like yoga helped.

“It helped to notice small improvements, like being able to walk around the local park,” she said.

“I celebrated that things were moving forward, and I had a party to thank everyone who helped me.

“Four years on, I have just completed a six-day bike ride. It is so exciting to have recovered my capacity to engage with others." 


To find out more about how we can help you, call our cancer nurses on 13 11 20 or email askanurse@cancervic.org.au

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