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Coping With Stress and Fatigue After Cancer

We asked our Current Oncology Section Editors how they would define the term “life after cancer” and how that theme presents itself in their chosen fields.  Below is a response from Dr. Karin Olson, Professor, Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta.


My work has been focused on the management of symptoms during [cancer] treatment but I am gradually beginning to study symptoms that continue following the completion of treatment.

A growing number of people report that some symptoms, most notably fatigue, continue to be a problem following treatment.  These symptoms sometimes prevent people from returning to work or participating in the activities they were doing before they became sick.

We are gradually learning more about fatigue.  We think that fatigue is an indicator that an individual is having some difficulty adapting to stress.  Cancer and its treatments seem to interfere with the way we adapt to stress, so the challenge is to find ways to address this problem.

Sometimes it is possible to change one’s life in a way that can eliminate some sources of stress.  It is unlikely, however, that all sources of stress can be eliminated, so the development of new strategies for stress management may be needed.

Each of you has likely developed your own way of managing stress but following cancer, you may need to modify them for this new phase in your life.  The following suggestions have not been fully tested, but our work suggests that we can increase our ability to adapt to stress by developing or maintaining:

1. Good sleep patterns;
2. A diet that provides adequate energy intake;
3. Social interactions with others;
4. Exercise that maintains muscle;
5. Strategies that help to compensate for any changes in ability to think clearly; and
6. Strategies that help manage emotions.


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