Fatigue during Cancer Therapy
Fatigue is the most common side effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in children.
This is not an indication of failing treatment or progression of cancer.
During therapy, the body works hard to repair damaged tissues and remove dead or dying cancer cells. This will create a general feeling of tiredness, even if your child is usually full of energy.
Fatigue is also caused by
- low red blood cell counts
- anti-nausea drugs and pain medication
- mineral imbalances caused by diarrhoea, excessive sweating or vomiting
- Emotional distress and disturbed sleep
All children are unique, as are their responses to cancer treatment. Some experience constant and debilitating fatigue while others complete chemotherapy without being troubled by fatigue at all. Many children become more tired as treatment progresses.
Good nutrition, vitamin and mineral supplements, lifestyle changes and emotional support can boost energy, helping children enjoy life during and after treatment.
Keep track of your child’s energy patterns throughout the day and during treatment cycles. Plan activities, rest periods and visitors according to these patterns.
Ensure plenty of naps, rest times and quiet activities are planned throughout the day to replenish your child‘s energy levels.
Give your child some control over planned activities by helping her prioritise goals for the day. If unsure of her energy levels, take a wheelchair or buggy, even if she is normally a good walker.
Let your child participate in regular activities whenever she can. If she is unable to participate due to fatigue, allow her to attend events and share in socialising, so she continues to feel involved.
Visitors can be an excellent boost for you and your child, but they can also be exhausting. Ask friends to first confirm by telephone if a visit is ok. If your child is too tired, suggest an alternative time and politely explain the need to rest.
If your child is old enough, encourage her to let you know when she is tiring. An agreed signal will enable her to communicate this when you have visitors. Use a simple signal like tugging the ear, hugging the knees or asking for a specific drink.
Provide well balanced meals and regular small snacks, incorporating lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein. However, don’t force them, or expect them to be eaten, as treatment can affect appetite and taste. Talk to your child’s doctor about vitamin and nutritional supplements that might be of benefit.
Avoid unnecessary physical or emotional stress as this saps energy and coping resources
Unless the doctor restricts outside activities, take regular trips to parks and gardens. Green spaces will help restore emotional energy for both you and your child.
Support groups, both for parents and for children, can be a wonderful source of emotional strength. Sharing experiences and feelings can restore hope and reduce the isolation associated with cancer. This will reduce stress levels and boost energy.