Q. My oncologist wants me to try to walk a little bit each day after I leave the hospital following my cancer surgery. At 82, I think I’ll be doing well just to get dressed for the day and make a little breakfast. How am I going to get well if I’m exhausted by 5 o’clock each afternoon?
As strange as it sounds, you might be able to overcome the exhaustion and shorten your recovery time by walking a little bit each day and gradually increasing the length of your walks. Researchers, in studying a group of people who underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer, affirmed recently that cancer patients can literally take a step-by-step approach to combat fatigue. The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
Furthermore, the National Cancer Institute reports that chronic fatigue affects up to 96 percent of people being treated for cancer. It’s so common that “sometimes it’s overlooked as normal, and people tend to write it off,” said the study’s lead author, Theresa P. Yeo, Ph.D., MPH, MSN, associate professor of nursing at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Nursing, Philadelphia.
“This is not the normal ‘I-stayed-up-too-late’ fatigue. It’s really being exhausted, and it doesn’t go away with sleep. This can lead to anxiety and depression.”
Dr. Yeo and her colleagues recruited 102 patients for their study, most of whom were 66 or 67 years old. The patients also had similar rates and types of chronic conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes, but no conditions that could severely limit mobility.
Referring to the study, Dr. Yeo said: “If people could walk for only three minutes, we said start with that and work your way up. If patients felt any discomfort or shortness of breath while walking, they were instructed to slow down or stop. The goal was to increase walking time 90 to 150 minutes each week by the end of the three-month program. The beauty of this program is that we’re not asking for high intensity aerobics or a target heart rate.”
Though the study authors acknowledge that more research is needed, patient discharge instructions have already been changed at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital to encourage walking or some form of aerobic activity as patients recover.
Good luck with your surgery. After you return home, additional support could help with medication reminders, meal preparation, light housekeeping, companionship, transportation, errands and shopping. Contact your local Home Instead Senior Care® office to learn more.
For more about the research, check out http://www.facs.org/news/jacs/fatigue0412.html.
The Home Instead Senior Carenetwork’s 2012 Family Caregiver Support Web Seminar Series features monthly seminars for family caregivers on a variety of topics that can help them care for their aging loved ones. Learn more about the topics and preregister at Caregiverstress.com/familyeducation.