What can help with fatigue?

For many people with pancreatic cancer, there are ways to manage fatigue – it’s not something you just have to put up with.

There are lots of things you can try to help you manage fatigue. You could:

Who can help with fatigue?

It’s important to talk to your medical team about any tiredness or fatigue. You should have a main contact in the medical team, who is normally a specialist nurse.

Your doctor or nurse may try to work out what is causing your fatigue and how bad it is. If they can find the cause they may be able to treat it. For example, treating symptoms or changing the treatment may help.

Palliative care or supportive care teams can also help manage complex symptoms, including fatigue. They also provide emotional and practical support, and aim to help people live as well as possible for as long as possible. These services aren’t just for people at the end of their life. They are available at any point during your treatment or care.

“Our palliative care nurse was super and was able to refer my partner to complementary therapies locally as well as offer other practical support.”

Other professionals who can help with fatigue

  • Occupational therapists (OT) can provide advice on how to manage your fatigue so that you can carry on doing things you want and need to do. This can include how to change tasks, and equipment that can save you energy. They can also suggest ways to help you relax and sleep well. Your GP or nurse can refer you to an OT. You can also contact your council, as social services also provide occupational therapy.
  • Dietitians provide advice about diet and nutrition, and help you manage digestion problems. This may also help you manage fatigue. If you haven’t seen a dietitian, ask your hospital team or GP to refer you to one.
  • Physiotherapists can give you exercises and advice to help you keep active. Your doctor or nurse can refer you to a physiotherapist.
  • Psychologists can help with the emotional effects of pancreatic cancer and fatigue. Your GP or nurse may be able to refer you to a psychologist.

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

Planning your time

Planning your time can help you deal with fatigue. This can help you do more of the things you want or need to do. But it is important to pace yourself. Don’t try to do too much.

A fatigue diary can help you see when you have more energy and help you plan your time. A diary can also help you describe your fatigue to your medical team and show how any treatment you are having affects it.

An occupational therapist can help you plan your time to make the most of the energy you have.

Planning is useful, but things don’t always go to plan. Don’t give yourself a hard time if your plan doesn’t work out.

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

What can I do?

  • Plan to do activities when you have more energy and to rest when you need to.
  • Spread activities that require more energy over a few days. Don’t try to do everything on a good day, as it might make you more tired the next few days.
  • Set yourself small, realistic goals. Break larger tasks or activities into smaller parts.
  • Work out which activities are important, which you can get help with and which can wait. Focus on doing the important things, which should include things you enjoy. These can help you deal with stress and improve your mood. It’s fine to put off something that’s not important.
  • If you use a fatigue diary, write down when you have fatigue, how bad it is, and anything that makes it better or worse. Try to include things like having a shower or watching TV.
  • If you feel too tired to keep a diary, you could ask a family member to do it for you. Family and friends can also help you prioritise activities.
  • If you have a big event coming up, such as a birthday or wedding, plan your time so you have enough energy for it.

Download our fatigue diary

You can use our fatigue diary to help record your fatigue.

Download our fatigue diary
Pancreatic Cancer Fatigue Diary Download

“I would plan for the fatigue if there was something coming up I needed to do, so I would ensure I was doing less on the day or two immediately before and after an event.”

Physical activity

There is good evidence that gentle physical activity can help with fatigue and increase energy levels. Physical activity is unlikely to make your fatigue worse. It can also help you feel better generally, improve your strength, and help you deal with stress.

Speak to your medical team about what type of activities are best for you, and any safety issues to be aware of.

A physiotherapist can give specialist advice about physical activity. An occupational therapist (OT) can help you include activity in your daily routine.

For physical activity to help, you need to do it regularly. But don’t overdo it. For most people, doing ten minutes of gentle activity three times a day would be suitable. This could include:

  • walking, such as going for a walk around the block or garden, or a longer walk, depending on what you can manage
  • light housework or gardening
  • sitting in a chair or lying on a bed or the floor, raising your leg, and holding it for a few seconds, before lowering it and repeating a few times
  • lifting some small weights, tins of food or bottles of water, while sitting in a chair
  • walking up and down a few steps.

It is important to do activity within your own limits. Take it easy and only do what you are able to. This will depend on how well you are. For example, you may not be able to do much if you are having chemotherapy.

What can I do?

  • Ask your medical team what physical activity you could safely do.
  • Speak to your doctor or nurse about being referred to a physiotherapist for support.
  • Try to include some gentle physical activity in your daily routine. Do activities you enjoy.
  • A few short activity sessions may be easier than one long one.
  • You might find that it’s easier to be active with a friend or relative. But make sure that you are in control. Don’t overdo it if the other person is able to do more than you.
  • Some people find it helpful to join a group. Some cancer support services run exercise courses for people with cancer. Ask your GP about any services in your area.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support has a lot of information about different ways of keeping active.

“Listen to your body. Rest when it tells you. Exercise, such as gentle walking or light gardening, if you can manage it.”

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of talking therapy. It can help you deal with problems by changing how you think and feel about them. There is some evidence that CBT can help people with cancer deal with fatigue and problems sleeping. It can also help with anxiety and depression.

CBT is available on the NHS. You can access it yourself through the NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT) on the NHS website. Your GP can also refer you, or you can pay for it privately.

Dealing with negative thoughts

You might find that fatigue gets you down and you start to think quite negatively. For example, you might think that you should be able to do more or cope better. You might worry that other people think you are lazy or not trying hard enough. Or you might feel that things will never get better.

These kinds of negative thoughts are normal, but they can make it harder to deal with fatigue, and make the fatigue worse. If you have pancreatic cancer, it is normal to feel tired. Try not to feel guilty about not being able to do what you used to.

What can I do?

  • Try to focus on positive things, such as what you can do, rather than what you can’t.
  • You might find it helpful to write down negative thoughts. This can help you deal with them. You could also write down positive things, as a reminder of what you can still do.
  • Get some support to deal with negative feelings and low mood.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you find ways to deal with negative thoughts.

“Mentally – the negative self-talk about what I was not doing as opposed to what I have achieved did not help.”

“Accept that sometimes you can't do anything and don't beat yourself up about it. Celebrate what you have accomplished.”

Getting some support

Fatigue can be difficult to deal with and have a big impact on your life. Getting some support can help you cope.

Support from family and friends

Family and friends can be a big support. For example, they can help with practical things like household chores or driving you to hospital. This can help you save energy for more important things. You might find it easiest to ask people to do specific tasks. You may find that people like being able to help in this way.

Family and friends can also provide emotional support, which can help you cope.

“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.”

Your medical team

Your medical team can provide support. You should have a main contact, who is often a specialist nurse if you are being cared for by the hospital, or a community or district nurse who cares for you at home. Tell them about the fatigue, as they can help you find ways to manage it.

 

How Pancreatic Cancer UK can help

We have a range of services that can help you deal with fatigue and other symptoms, and also provide emotional support.

You can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line. They have time to listen and talk through your problems and concerns.

Our online support sessions are a chance to meet others with pancreatic cancer, share your experiences, support each other and feel understood. Our nurses often run sessions on managing symptoms, including fatigue. You can also share experiences and get support from others on our online forum.

Find out about the support from Pancreatic Cancer UK

Support from other organisations

Cancer centres provide information and support. Some run courses or provide services such as counselling or complementary therapies. Examples include Maggie’s Centres and Macmillan information and support centres.

Support groups

There are cancer support groups around the country where you can talk to other people going through similar experiences.

“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.”

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies include things like acupuncture, massage and meditation. Some people find that complementary therapies help them cope with fatigue. There isn’t a lot of evidence about them, and they don’t work for everyone. But they may help you feel more relaxed, and might help with other symptoms. They can also be something to look forward to.

Don’t stop any cancer treatments if you have complementary therapy. It’s important to speak to your medical team before trying a complementary therapy, as some may affect your cancer treatment. And tell your complementary therapist about your cancer treatment. The Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council have a list of registered therapists.

Distracting yourself

You may find that it helps to distract yourself from the fatigue. Try to focus on doing things that you enjoy. For example, you could see friends and family, do hobbies, or even just read or watch television. If you have a pet, you may also find that they help to distract you from fatigue.

Social care

There may be times when you need extra support at home. Your local council’s social services may provide support such as:

  • help from care workers with everyday tasks, such as washing, dressing, preparing meals, or housework
  • equipment or adaptations to the home
  • respite or day centre care to give your family a break.

You may have to pay for some of the care. This will depend on what the service is and your financial circumstances. Speak to your GP, nurse or local Macmillan information and support centre for help organising care at home.

"Keeping my mind occupied as much as I could helped, with projects on my laptop, watching TV, & listening to the radio."

Dealing with memory problems

Fatigue can make it hard to remember things and concentrate. This is normal, but it can be frustrating. An occupational therapist may be able to help with this. Speak to your nurse if you are having a lot of memory problems.

 

What can I do?

  • Try using a diary, sticky notes, or your mobile phone to remind you of things.
  • You could set an alarm if you need to remember something at a specific time.
  • Pill boxes help you plan your medicine in advance, so that you don’t forget to take it.
  • Write a list of the medicines you take, the dose and when you need to take them. Tick them off each time you take them.
  • Write a “to do” list of things you need to do. Cross things off as you do them.
  • Make a shopping list and note things down as you think of them. Cross things off as you buy them. Some smartphones also have shopping list and reminder functions.

Steroids

Steroids are medicines that can be used to treat some symptoms and side effects, including pain and sickness. They may sometimes help with fatigue in the short term, particularly for people with advanced cancer. There is some evidence that they may make it easier to do physical activity.

Steroids are not suitable for everyone, and they should only be used for a short time. If steroids are not taken properly, they can cause problems sleeping and stomach problems, so follow your doctor’s advice. Steroids can cause your blood sugar level to rise. Your doctor or nurse will need to monitor this if you have diabetes.

“Rest when you need to. Try and exercise a bit and get fresh air. Try and recognise when your tired days are during treatment and expect to have much reduced energy levels.”

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse


  • What can help manage my fatigue?
  • Would it help if I saw a dietitian, occupational therapist or physiotherapist? Can you refer me?
  • Would CBT or counselling help with worries and fatigue? How can I access these?
  • Would complementary therapies help?
  • I have a special event coming up. What would give me the energy to go to it?
  • What can I do to help me remember things?
  • Are there organisations or support groups that can help?

Updated October 2022

To be reviewed October 2025