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Post-Cancer Treatment Fatigue - The 3 Types

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Many people are aware that post-cancer treatment fatigue is a common side effect of going through cancer. However what a lot of people don’t realize, is that there are three different types - physical, cognitive, and emotional. Today I’m sharing more about these three types of post-cancer treatment fatigue, and some tips for what you can do about them. These tips are beneficial for both patients as well as caregivers to learn, as cancer side effects impact everyone involved.

A woman lying on a bed with her hands over her face feeling post cancer treatment fatigue

How To Overcome Post-Cancer Treatment Fatigue

The first type of post-cancer treatment fatigue, and what most people think of when they think of this side effect is physical fatigue. Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical treatments all take a toll on the body and often leave patients feeling very tired throughout their body.

It is essential to give your body the rest that it needs and to give yourself grace. When you are ready to begin exercising, it is best to ease into it. Start with low-impact exercises such as walking or water aerobics. Aiming for frequency in your exercises rather than length is also better for your body. For example, start with regular 10-15 minute walks and work up to longer ones. Manageable exercise like this will help your body slowly build back up its strength.

Cognitive Fatigue or “Chemo Brain”

The second type of post-cancer treatment fatigue that patients experience is cognitive. This is often referred to as “chemo brain.” It takes a lot more effort to engage your thoughts when you still have the aftereffects of chemotherapy and radiation in your body. Patients also experience this cognitive fatigue when taking drugs daily either for long-term treatment and/or prevention of recurrence.

So, it’s important to be kind to yourself if you are experiencing this! It’s not realistic to think that you will bounce right back. Meditation is very helpful for cognitive repair also, as it helps give your brain time to rest.

Emotional Fatigue During and After Cancer Treatment

Finally, the third type of post-cancer treatment fatigue, and one that is often not talked about, is emotional. The emotions that you experience throughout your cancer journey, from the time you are diagnosed, through treatment, and into survivorship, can be both positive and negative. And, they can all be exhausting. There are so many different emotions you will have to deal with about your experience with cancer. And in addition to this, you will also encounter situations where you will have to deal with the emotions and external needs of your family and friends. So, it is crucial to set boundaries. Think about what you are able to handle, and communicate this to loved ones and caregivers.

Working with a professional to talk through some of the fatigue you are experiencing, especially cognitive and emotional, is another action you can take to help overcome these side effects. And, therapy is customizable to suit your specific individual needs.


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