Fatigue caused by breast cancer and its treatments can make a big difference to how you cope with daily life.

Fatigue can have a big impact on daily life

We all find it hard to keep on top of things sometimes. But if you have cancer-related fatigue, even simple tasks might seem impossible. Use these methods to manage extreme tiredness every day and learn to make the most of the energy you have.

1. Make deposits in your energy bank

Fatigue is one of the main side effects of breast cancer treatment. Although you may want to carry on as usual, it’s important to know your limits and not to expect too much of yourself.

Think of your energy reserves as your ‘energy bank’. Whenever you do an activity you make a withdrawal. And when you rest you make a deposit.

It’s important to balance withdrawals with deposits. If you keep doing too much whenever you feel like you have energy, you’ll run out completely and not have any left for the things that are important.

  • Whether you’re at work or at home, plan regular breaks and be careful not to ‘push on’ or you’ll make your fatigue worse.
  • Stress can have a negative effect on your energy levels, so try doing a stress-reducing activity such as listening to music or using a mindfulness app.
  • If you’re very low on energy, have a nap, but limit the number of naps you take and keep them to less than an hour so you still sleep at night.
  • Try to do some regular moderate exercise like walking or swimming, and eat healthy meals or snacks whenever your appetite is good.
  • Finally, try to get a good night’s sleep.

2. Keep a breast cancer fatigue diary

Writing a do list

Planning is key when you have fatigue. Keeping a fatigue diary – where you score your fatigue each day on a scale from 1 to 10, and record your activities – can help you think about patterns in your energy levels. This can make it easier to plan your activities for the times when you have more energy.

You could also try writing a ‘To Do’ list and being strict about what can wait until tomorrow or next week. Only do the things that absolutely have to be done each day. Allow lots of time for each task and spread them out throughout the day so you have plenty of time for rest.

3. Be cost-effective with your energy

Before you start any task, think about how you can do it in the most efficient way. Plan out what you’ll need and think about how to do everything in the fewest trips and with the least carrying.

Sit down whenever you can for chores to save energy. And break up bigger tasks into smaller stages with breaks in between.

Think of ways to make life easier for yourself, for example by buying ready meals or choosing meals that are easier to prepare. You might want to hire a cleaner temporarily, or social services may be able to help (if you’re eligible).

4. Make adjustments at work

If you’re finding it difficult to manage fatigue at work following a breast cancer diagnosis, your employer is required to make reasonable adjustments for you. Talk to your employer about reducing your hours or reassigning physically demanding tasks. You can also ask about working from home, changing your hours to avoid travelling at rush hour or parking nearer work.

There are other practical things you can do to help with fatigue at work. Think about adjusting your work environment – things like noise, temperature and lighting can make you more tired. Sit down to work if you can, and make sure your chair is set up so you’re not uncomfortable or slumping. Take regular breaks, and ask for and accept help from your colleagues.

Don’t feel like you have to continue working if you’re struggling with fatigue. You can find out more about work and cancer, including your employment rights, on the Macmillan Cancer Support website.

5. Accept help

Many of us like to do everything ourselves, but if you have fatigue this isn’t always possible.

Don’t feel guilty about letting other people do things for you, whether it’s carrying out more strenuous activities, lifting or helping with your workload.

Often people want to help but don’t know what you need. But people also have their own commitments, so it’s best to plan ahead and give them as much notice as possible.

Learn more about fatigue caused by breast cancer treatment.

Read more