I Finished With My Treatments, Why Am I Still So Tired?
Last updated: May 2023
I hear this question all of the time, "How long did it take for you to regain your energy after treatments?" or "I finished treatments a month ago and I am still exhausted. Why?" Have you asked that question?
Bouncing back after treatment and cancer
The sad reality is that our bodies often do not bounce back nearly as quickly as we wish they would after being assaulted with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. And, don't forget. Not only did we have to fight the treatment, but we also fought the cancer itself. Double-whammy!!
On the forums, responders all agree that their energy levels did not return nearly as quickly (or ever, in some cases) as they anticipated. Many recommended vitamins, especially B-12 and/or iron, participating in local Livestrong.org programs, and considering acupuncture, especially if you have some peripheral neuropathy accompanying your fatigue.
What do the experts say?
I decided to take a look at what the experts say about energy levels after chemotherapy. Here is what I discovered.
The Dana Farber Cancer Institute recognizes that just getting more sleep or rest is not enough to "cure" the kind of fatigue that too frequently accompanies cancer treatments. I know when I was getting chemo, there was no amount of rest that would make that feeling of lead legs and feet go away.
According to Dana Farber, besides the treatment itself, the extreme and unrelenting fatigue may be caused by anemia, poor nutrition, and/or dehydration. Pain and depression also can contribute to fatigue (as can the medications to treat them).
Recovering from persistant fatigue
As to how long the fatigue will last, the answer is an unsatisfying "it depends." For some people, the extreme tiredness will lift, sometimes in only a matter of months. But, for others, the fatigue, while perhaps lessening, will remain for years.
I have a wise friend on a forum where I participate. His advice on dealing with the fatigue and other symptoms that we must learn to live with after chemotherapy or other cancer treatments is "consider where we would be if we had not had the treatment." Indeed.
You can get the full scoop, but in general, Dana Farber recommends that the best way to combat the inevitable fatigue that accompanies chemotherapy, besides getting plenty to drink and possibly adding nutritional supplements, is to rest. Accept that you will be tired. Plan your activities when your energy levels are highest.
Sound advice when thinking about fatigue
Here's my favorite piece of advice they gave, "Do what you enjoy, but do less of it." Additionally, learn to say, "no," even to yourself. Does every particle of dust have to be obliterated or must the floor be mopped every day? (For me, not a housekeeper even before cancer, this advice resonates!)
The Mayo Clinic agrees with Dana Farber about the reasons for the weariness we too frequently live with after chemotherapy. They add that lack of exercise and hormonal changes can also impact how tired you feel. It seems counter-intuitive to realize that the more we exercise the less fatigue we feel, but that is often the case.
For the most part, the fatigue is just something with which we're going to have to learn to deal. But, there are times when the Mayo Clinic recommends that you see your doctor. If your fatigue is accompanied by confusion, dizziness, loss of balance, the inability to get out of bed for more than 24 hours, severe shortness of breath, or worsening signs and symptoms, please contact your clinic right away.
What healthy habits do you use to improve the quality of your life?