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Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment.

People usually describe fatigue as feeling tired, weak or exhausted. Yet it’s a different kind of tiredness – one that doesn’t go away after a good rest or nap. Fatigue can be caused by the physical effects of treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. It can also be a result of the emotional impact of diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.

It’s important for women not to push themselves. With time and rest, energy levels will gradually return to normal. The important thing to remember is that fatigue will improve with time.

Some women worry that others will expect them to bounce back once treatment is over and that they shouldn’t complain about being tired. However, fatigue can be a significant issue for many women and it’s important that  women and those close to them to acknowledge it and adjust their activities accordingly.

How long will fatigue last?

For some people, fatigue is mild and temporary. For others, it lasts months after treatment and makes going about daily activities impossible. Some women find they can only do one or two things before feeling exhausted when they would usually have been able to do many more tasks in a day. This can be very frustrating.

If you're feeling fatigued, talk with your doctor about what factors might be causing your fatigue and what you can do to improve your symptoms.

Tips to help with fatigue

While you may not be able to avoid fatigue completely, thereare things you can do to conserve your energy and make the most of the energy you do have. It'simportant that you are guided by what your body tells you and build any new activities slowly.

  • Exercise. A normal reaction to feeling tired is to rest. Although it may not be what you’d expect, regular exercise can help you to feel less tired. Research shows that exercise is effective in reducing cancer-related fatigue after cancer treatment. Try going for a short walk or find a gentle yoga or tai chi class – this will help to gradually restore your energy without exhausting you. Some women find that more strenuous exercise is also helpful.
  • Get enough sleep. But don't overdo it. Try listening to a guided relaxation CD as you’re falling asleep. This can help you to rest more deeply. You can find these sorts of CDs at your local library. If you feel tired during the day, it’s OK to take short naps (no longer than an hour) but try not to rest for long periods – to avoid not sleeping well at night.
  • Ask for help. Don’t think you have to do everything yourself. See if friends and family can help with things like shopping, cleaning or running errands.
  • Don’t overdo it. Save your energy for the things you enjoy by taking breaks when you need to and rest before you get too tired.
  • Make lists. Lists can be a great way of helping you remember what needs doing and can stop you worrying.
  • Take the load off. You can be resting even while you’re doing things. Sit down while you’re talking on the phone, chopping up vegetables, or ironing. If you have young children, try to play with them sitting or lying down with board games, puzzles or drawing.
  • Plan ahead. Don’t do too much in one day or at times of the day when you know you’ll feel tired. Try not to rush and leave plenty of time to get to where you need to go. Don’t do the shopping during busy times. Keep track of when you feel best and schedule activities for these times.
  • Eat well. Maintain your energy by eating a varied and healthy diet.