The festive period takes it out of us all, but when you have cancer it can be even harder to bounce back. Around three quarters of men with prostate cancer will experience fatigue (extreme tiredness) at some point. Normal tiredness gets better once you’ve rested but, for some, fatigue can be a debilitating problem that has a dramatic impact on quality of life. However, you don’t have to simply accept this.
Although fatigue is very common in men with prostate cancer, we often hear men haven’t felt able to discuss it with their specialist or GP. We believe men shouldn’t feel alone in dealing with it, and want to help them feel understood and supported to build their motivation for change.
That’s why we offer a unique Fatigue support service to help men get back on track. Here, Specialist Nurse, Teresa answers your questions about the service and how we can help you deal with fatigue. And we hear some feedback from men who’ve used the service.
Our goal is to help you normalise your fatigue – in other words, we want to help you take control and feel better equipped to manage it. Ultimately we want this to lead to an improvement in your overall wellbeing.
“I find the value of recognition (of fatigue) enormous… I thought it was just me, but then you realise lots of other men have it and Prostate Cancer UK has a service for it. Fantastic.”
We will assign you a specialist nurse, who will call you four times over a period of 10-12 weeks. The calls vary in terms of what we talk about and how long they are, but are not usually longer than 45 minutes.
We send you a tailored diary, factsheet and a booklet about coping with fatigue day-to-day. We encourage you to use the diary to explore any patterns that emerge in your fatigue. This can allow you to better plan your activities around the times when you have more energy.
Your nurse will support you in making practical changes to your lifestyle and habits to manage your tiredness in a way that works for you.
“I now have a better understanding of fatigue and how to combat it. To talk with somebody else and confirm what I felt, and help me along, was very useful.”
Anyone who has had a prostate cancer diagnosis and is experiencing fatigue can ask us for an assessment.
Before enrolling someone, we discuss your general situation, including treatments you’re receiving and any other health issues. If you’re having treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, you need to have completed this before starting the service. If you’re on long term hormone therapy, you can still enrol on the service.
What’s really important, though, is that you’re enthusiastic for change. We ask you to fully commit to the service and be prepared to adjust your activities, to help you gain more control of your fatigue.
We can’t guarantee that your fatigue symptoms will totally disappear, as it’s often caused by treatments or the cancer itself. However, we explore strategies to enable you to be less dominated by it and get back to doing the things you enjoy.
We tackle other issues associated with tiredness too – for example, how to get good quality sleep, diet and exercise, and relaxation techniques, all of which can help lessen the impact of fatigue.
“As the next door neighbour put it yesterday, ‘it’s lovely to see the sparkle back in your eye’. She’s absolutely right.”
You can also contact us on 0800 074 8383 (Monday-Friday 9am-6pm, Wednesday 10am-8pm) to discuss whether the Fatigue service might be suitable for you. If you’re a health professional reading this, you can signpost men to us for support in the same way.
We’ve also recently launched an interactive online guide, which can help man understand fatigue and get tips on managing it.
If in doubt, we always recommend that if you’re experiencing persistent tiredness, you speak to your GP to rule out complications from prostate cancer treatments, which can affect your ability to get on top of fatigue.
“I could see a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. It gave me back my enthusiasm for life.”
It’s really satisfying seeing week by week progress in a man’s fatigue levels, and overall improvements by the end of the programme.
I also enjoy helping men explore their problems and develop strategies for coping with fatigue. We know people appreciate the time we can offer to discuss their concerns with a nurse who isn’t hospital or community based, where often time is scarce.
In my experience, men have great faith in the Fatigue service and value our unique involvement in learning how to manage an often under-recognised problem better.
“You were there when the hospital nurse wasn’t and just to be told: ‘Oh that’s normal, that’s to be expected’ – it’s an enormous lifeline.”