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Dealing with the effects of fatigue on daily life

Fatigue can have a big impact on your daily life, and make it harder to do everything you used to do.

Work and money

Having fatigue can make work difficult. For example, you may not be able to concentrate properly, or may struggle to travel into work. If fatigue is affecting your work, it can impact on your finances. For example, you might find that you need to work part time or take a few months off work. It’s important to deal with any money issues so that they don’t become something you worry about. If you can, try to sort things out before they become a problem. Read our information on work and money, which has lots of ways you can sort out money problems.

“The fatigue made working full-time difficult so I had to work flexibly and schedule hours over 7 days to allow for rest periods.”

“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.”

Driving

It may not be safe for you to drive if you feel tired or sleepy. Tiredness can make it hard to concentrate when you are driving, and you may not react very quickly.

Some medicines can affect your driving. For example, if you are taking opioid painkillers, you shouldn’t drive if they make you feel sleepy, you have just started taking them or have changed the dose. Ask your doctor about driving while taking medicines.

You must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), or the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) if you live in Northern Ireland about your cancer if:

  • your medicine causes side effects that could affect your driving or
  • your cancer affects your driving or
  • your doctor says you may not be fit to drive.

Ask your doctor whether your cancer or treatment will affect your driving.

Household tasks

Household jobs like cooking, cleaning, and shopping can use up a lot of energy. Try to spread these tasks out over the week, and work out which is most important and needs doing soonest. Don’t use up all your energy on household tasks so that you have no energy left for things you enjoy. Read more about planning your time to save energy.

What can help?

An occupational therapist (OT) can help you find ways to do these tasks more easily.

You could ask family and friends to help out with household tasks. They can be a big help, and you might find they like helping in this way.

You may find some of these tips help you manage daily tasks.

  • Try online shopping rather than going out to the shops.
  • If you are having problems eating, our diet tips may help you get the nutrients you need. Eating well can help reduce fatigue.
  • Use ready-made meals if you don’t feel like cooking.
  • If you are cooking, make more food than you need and freeze portions for future meals.
  • Use things that can save energy when you are cooking – for example, use a food processor to chop vegetables, or buy prepared food such as chopped vegetables and grated cheese.
  • Try energy saving things, like sitting on a stool when you dress, shower or prepare food. OTs can provide stools for this.
  • Drying yourself can use a lot of energy – wrap up in a towelling dressing gown instead.
  • Before you start any task, make sure you have everything you need ready, rather than having to go backwards and forwards to get things.
  • If you can afford it, employ a cleaner.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support or other local charities often have volunteers who can help with shopping, transport and other practical tasks. Your nurse or Macmillan information and support centre should be able to find out what’s available in your area.
  • If you have children, ask family and friends for help with looking after them.
  • Plan activities that you can do with children while sitting down, such as crafts, jigsaws or reading.  

“What helped? Care by family members – preparing fresh meals several times a day, taking mum out to a park where she could walk, escapist conversations and boosting her mental state.”

“Others want to help – just ask. There is no shame in asking, and it’s frustrating for your loved ones watching you struggle. Take all the help you can.”

Seeing friends and family

Fatigue can affect your social life. For example, you might find it difficult to go out to see people, or you might get tired very quickly. This can be upsetting for both you and your friends and family.

Seeing friends and family can be important. They may provide some normality and distraction from the cancer and fatigue. They can also be a big support in helping you deal with these. For example, you might be able to talk to them about how you are feeling.

What can help?

You might find these tips help you see people in a way you can manage.

  • Plan your time so that you see people when you have more energy. Friends and family will understand.
  • Be honest with people (and yourself) about what you can manage. People sometimes feel that they have to see friends and family, even if they don’t feel up to it. Don’t push yourself if you don’t have the energy.
  • If you find going out tiring, ask friends and family to visit you at home.
  • People may worry about tiring you out so tell them what would work for you. For example, you could suggest meeting for an hour or so over a coffee.
  • If you find it tiring to see people in person, there are other ways you can keep in touch. For example, you could have short phone conversations, send emails or text messages, or talk to them through social media. You could set up an email or What’s App group to update several people at the same time without sending lots of individual messages.
  • If you have a big event coming up, such as a birthday or wedding, plan your time so you have enough energy for it.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed with seeing friends and family, ask someone to manage your diary for you.

“I didn’t have the energy to see friends, or travel far. I found it best to acknowledge it and don’t fight it.”

“When my partner was on chemo we soon worked out what his better days would be and this helped us plan ahead. Friends were more than happy to fall in with this.”

Information for family and friends

It can be upsetting when someone you love has fatigue, with no energy to do much. But there are lots of ways you can support them, which can help them cope better with the fatigue.

  • You may be able to help them cope emotionally, by talking about their feelings and worries, and being there for them. Read more about the link between fatigue and anxiety and depression.
  • You can help your family member arrange a specific time each day when they will rest, so that everyone else knows not to disturb them.
  • You can help with household chores, such as cleaning, shopping and gardening. This will mean your family member can save their energy for more important things, such as activities they enjoy or spending time with you. You could also arrange for other family and friends to help out.
  • You could take on responsibility for organising daily life – for example, paying bills, arranging to see friends and family, letting people know how they are, and organising medical appointments.
  • The fatigue may mean that it isn’t safe for them to drive, so you could do the driving. Be aware that if you are doing a lot of caring for your loved one, you might also be very tired – which may mean it’s not safe for you to drive. You might want to ask other family and friends to help with driving.
  • You could talk to medical professionals for them, and make notes of what is said to help them remember.
  • You may take on some caring responsibilities. This might include helping your family member take medicines, cooking for them, or helping them wash and dress.
  • You may also need to organise professional care.
  • If they have children, you could help care for them.

It might be difficult for your family member to accept help, and they may worry about losing their independence. Talk to them about how you can help – let them know that you want to help out, and ask what tasks would be particularly helpful.

Getting support for you

Supporting or caring for someone with cancer can be physically and emotionally exhausting for you too. So it’s important that you get support for yourself as well.

You can speak to your family member’s medical team. They will be able to provide you both with emotional support.

If you have any questions about pancreatic cancer, fatigue, or how to care for your family member, speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

“My family found it tough to see me so fatigued as I used to be very active. Reassure them that their loved ones will get more tired during chemo and not to be too alarmed by this.”

Read more on how fatigue might affect you.

Read our information on what can help with fatigue. 

Reviewed February 2020

Review Date February 2022