Exploring patient experiences and self-initiated strategies for living with cancer-related fatigue

Margaret I. Fitch, Deborah Mings, Alan Lee


Fatigue is one of the most prevalent and distressing side effects of cancer for patients. It threatens quality of life and can interfere with daily living. Systematic approaches for assessing and intervening are recommended for implementation in many cancer centres.

Prior to implementing a formal fatigue program, this study was conducted to explore what cancer patients do to cope with fatigue on their own. In-depth interviews were conducted with 31 patients receiving chemotherapy to identify the strategies they used to cope with the fatigue they experienced. Patients were able to identify when they noticed the fatigue and what they had tried to do. Most individuals used resting, sleeping, and decreasing activity. Relatively few tried a range of other strategies. Many perceived the fatigue as a normal part of cancer treatment and something with which they just had to put up. Heightened emotional reactions emerged when the fatigue interfered with an activity that was important to the individual. Clearly, without a systematic patient education program, patients are left to learn through trial and error what could be helpful to them in coping with the effects of fatigue.

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