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What can I do about fatigue?

There are ways to manage fatigue if you have pancreatic cancer, so don’t assume it’s something you have to put up with. It’s important to talk to your medical team about how you feel. They may do some simple tests to try to find out what is causing your fatigue. For example, a blood test can check for anaemia, and how well the liver and kidneys are working. If your doctors can find the cause they may be able to treat it and help with the symptoms.

As well as your usual medical team, there are other health professionals who can help you manage fatigue.

  • Dietitians advise on diet and nutrition. They can help you to manage diet symptoms caused by pancreatic cancer and eat as well as possible to get the nutrition you need. If you haven’t seen a dietitian, asked to be referred to one.
  • Occupational therapists provide practical support to help you find ways to do everyday tasks that might be difficult. This can range from recommending equipment or adaptations at home, to advising on exercises to help you relax.
  • Physiotherapists can give you exercises and advice to help you keep active, and to help with some symptoms such as pain.
  • Psychologists can help with the emotional effects of pancreatic cancer and fatigue, such as anxiety, stress and depression.

Ask your medical team what support is available – you don’t have to cope alone.

You may find some of the suggestions here helpful in managing your fatigue. We’ve also included tips from people with pancreatic cancer and health professionals.

Keeping a fatigue diary

You could try keeping a fatigue diary. Use it to note down when you have fatigue, how bad it is, and anything that makes it better or worse. A diary can help you describe your fatigue to your medical team and show how any treatment you’re having affects it. It can also help you see when you have more energy to do things. You can then plan activities for when you have more energy, and rest when you’re more tired.

“When you have a good day don’t go mad; pace yourself so that you’re not wiped out the next two days.”

Physical activity

Gentle physical activity can help you deal with fatigue and increase your energy levels. It can also increase your appetite, improve your strength and fitness, help you cope better with treatment, and help you feel better generally. Read more about physical activity, including the type of exercise that might help.

Speak to your medical team before starting any kind of exercise plan. They can advise you on how to get started and what type of activities are best for you. They can also refer you to a physiotherapist  or occupational therapist for specialist help.

“The best advice she was given was to always listen to her body. And if she was overdoing it she should stop.”

“After chemotherapy ended, I was referred for physiotherapy. The sessions introduced gentle exercise to improve my core strength and stamina and were very helpful.”

Complementary therapies

Some people find that complementary therapies help them cope with fatigue and other symptoms, although they don’t work for everyone. Therapies that may help include acupuncture, massage and relaxation therapies like meditation and hypnotherapy. Hospitals, hospices and local cancer charities may offer some of these therapies.

Complementary therapies work alongside your medical treatments. It’s important to speak to your medical team before you start a complementary therapy, as some may affect your cancer treatment. And tell your complementary therapist about your cancer treatment.

Driving

Your ability to drive may be affected by fatigue or by some medications. For example, if you are taking opioid painkillers you shouldn’t drive if they make you feel sleepy, or if you’ve just started them or changed the dose. Ask your doctor whether your cancer or treatment will affect your driving. You may need to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), or the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) if you live in Northern Ireland.

Tips to help manage fatigue

You may find some of these tips helpful in dealing with fatigue. If you have any questions about them, speak to your medical team. You can also call our specialist nurses on our Support Line. Remember to speak to your medical team about any side effects or symptoms you have, as getting these under control can also help you manage fatigue.

  • Set yourself goals for each day – such as something you enjoy doing and that’s easy to achieve.
  • Try to challenge negative thoughts like ‘I should be able to do more’ or ‘they think I’m lazy’. Focus on what you can do rather than on what you can’t.
  • Save your energy – don’t do so much on one day that you’re exhausted for the next day.
  • Limit phone calls and visitors if you find them tiring – it’s okay to say no.
  • Plan ahead so that you have time in your day to do the things you want to – be realistic about how much you can do.
  • Prioritise what’s most important to you and decide what you can let go, even temporarily – for example, spending time with friends or family rather than doing the washing up.
  • Paceyourself – plan to do more at times when you feel less tired, and plan a rest period after a period of activity. A fatigue diary can help with this.
  • Accept offers of help with everyday tasks like cooking, shopping or household tasks.
  • If you’re having problems eating, our diet tips may help you get the nutrients you need. Eating well can help reduce fatigue.
  • Use chilled or frozen ready meals if you don’t feel up to cooking.
  • Save energy by sitting on a stool or chair in the shower and sitting to dry yourself afterwards.
  • Drying yourself can use a lot of energy – wrap up in a towelling dressing gown instead.
  • Try not to get anxious or frustrated if you forget things or find it hard to concentrate. Try using your diary, post-it notes or smart phone to remind you of important things such as appointments or when to take medicines.
  • If you are in hospital, you should be given advice about any care you might be offered at home. This may be called a care package. What you are offered will depend on things like your age, how frail you are and what family support you have. Ask the nurse in charge of the ward about arranging an assessment before you go home.

“I’m fortunate that my colleagues understand and support me throughout the day, as I still have to have a rest in the work’s first aid room every morning – without that I couldn’t manage.”

What other support is there to help me cope with fatigue?

Published October 2017

To be reviewed October 2019

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