As one of the most common side-effects of Gleevec, Sutent and Stivarga, fatigue is a condition that many GIST survivors are intimately acquainted with. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network defines cancer-related fatigue as “a distressing, persistent, subjective sense of physical, emotional and/or cognitive tiredness or exhaustion related to cancer or cancer treatment that is not proportional to recent activity and interferes with usual functioning.” Due to its difficulty to quantify and/or or treat, patients may find it both physically and emotionally debilitating. However, fatigue in cancer patients may have more than one cause. While cancer treatments (i.e. chemotherapy, radiation, surgery) themselves are certainly the primary source of fatigue, other causes including anemia, not getting enough calories and nutrients, loss of muscle weight, and being less active may also be contributing factors.
Research shows fatigue reduction with exercise
Research has linked physical exercise with fatigue reduction as well as increased muscular strength and sleep duration. Studies have also concluded that the higher number of steps a person took per day was correlated with higher physical activity and better levels of social functioning. In other words, the more you move, the better you will feel. Although there have not been many studies on this topic, all existing studies have shown promising results which have led to exercise programs becoming a standard part of many patients’ treatment plans.
Cancer institutes across the country have begun offering patients supervised exercise classes and consults with experienced exercise physiologists. These programs are targeted specifically for cancer patients and are available with a doctor’s approval. There are other options available if a cancer institute is not nearby. The LIVESTRONG Foundation has partnered with the YMCA to offer classes for adult cancer survivors. Another option is searching through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to find a trainer who is a certified cancer exercise trainer in your area. There are also ways you can exercise at home, but before trying anything at home always consult your physician.
Ways to remain active
The most important part of living a physically active lifestyle is to make sure you are having fun. After receiving the sign off by your health care team, here is a short list of fun ways to remain active:
Walking – With summer right around the corner it is the perfect time to go for a stroll. Brisk walks can increase energy levels by boosting blood circulation and increasing oxygen supply to each and every cell in your body helping you feel more alert. Just remember to stay hydrated and protect yourself from sun exposure.
Stationary Cycling – If balance is a concern for you, try cycling on a stationary bicycle. Riding a stationary bicycle regularly helps your heart become stronger and more efficient at pumping blood throughout your body. The more blood you circulate, the more oxygen and nutrients are transported to all living cells. You can even grab a nice book and read while getting your exercise in.
Yoga – This is a great way to gain flexibility and strength, while reducing stress levels. Yoga focuses on harmonizing both the body and mind through the use of precise posture, breathing exercises, and meditation. The techniques incorporated in yoga can help lessen chronic pain, lower blood pressure, and reduce insomnia.
Gardening – Enjoy being outdoors? With spring here, it is the perfect time to begin a garden, whether it is a flowerbed or a vegetable patch. Gardening is associated with mental clarity and feelings of reward. It has also been shown to promote tranquility and healing. Just be cautious of any excessive heavy lifting and sun exposure.
Dance – If traditional exercise is not for you, dancing is a great way to get moving and have fun. It is a full body workout without the boring, repetitious movements of conventional exercise programs. Dancing improves body shape, promotes stronger bones, improves balance and raises endorphin levels. Make a playlist of your favorite songs and start moving!
There are endless types of exercise you can do beyond the ones provided above. The benefits of exercise, if done properly and safely, can lead to a better quality of life and increase your overall well being. Whether it’s a short workout found online or a personalized exercise plan designed for you, the main part is to just get up and start moving.