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Fox Chase Offers New Cancer Fatigue Program

Fatigue, or feeling tired, is a common side effect of cancer treatment. But patients don't have to lie down when it comes to dealing with it. Fox Chase is introducing a 12-week program that teaches patients how to manage fatigue using a multi-faceted approach.

"Fatigue is one of the primary complaints of cancer patients, no matter what type of cancer they have," explains Barbara Ebersole, manager of Fox Chase's department of physical medicine and rehabilitation. "For many people, fatigue lessens and goes away when treatments are over, but for others, it can last much longer."

A different kind of tired
Fox Chase physical therapists Jeannie Kozempel and Lora Packel lead the new program. "Cancer-related fatigue is different in a number of ways from just feeling tired," explains Packel, who also teaches physical therapy as an assistant professor at Philadelphia's University of the Sciences. "While you or I could take a nap or get a good night's sleep and feel recharged, someone with cancer fatigue may have 'unrefreshed' sleep, where they wake up and still feel tired."

"There's no real link between the amount of activity and the feeling of fatigue," adds Kozempel, who has worked with patients at Fox Chase for 19 years. "A person with cancer fatigue may feel tired much sooner than expected."

And it's not just physical. Cancer patients also experience cognitive fatigue—a mental fuzziness that makes it hard to concentrate or remember things. It can vary from person to person and from day to day.

"With our program, we want to help people not only feel better, but be able to do something to help themselves get to that point," Packel says.

What to expect
The fatigue program will include group exercise, talks, and mindfulness sessions. Mindfulness involves learning how to be more self aware and focused in one's thoughts and activities. "It really can help people change how they think about their symptoms," Packel says.

"A lot of times, patients are already up to their ears in medications and are looking for other ways to manage their fatigue. This program offers an effective way to do that."

Guest speakers will cover topics such as nutrition; energy conservation; and sleep hygiene, or strategies for getting better quality sleep. Therapists will teach walking, aerobic, and strengthening exercises during program meetings where participants will learn the movements and then continue them at home. In addition, there will be a trip to a local gym.

"We're really addressing all aspects of fatigue," notes Kozempel. "Not just the physical, but the emotional, mental, nutritional."

"Plus, having two therapists leading the program allows us to give a more individualized approach," notes Ebersole. "For example, if a participant has a rotator cuff injury or someone suffers from osteoporosis, we can modify the program to meet their needs."

Responding to patients
The fatigue program is designed for anyone who has received treatment or is currently undergoing treatment for any type of cancer. "Fatigue is an issue that hasn't gotten a lot of attention," explains Packel. "Much of the focus, and rightly so, is on the cancer and its progression. But we also know that it is critical to survivorship to focus on quality of life."

"This effort is patient-driven," notes Ebersole. "It was our patients articulating a desire to have such a program that led us to create it."

To join, participants must be able to walk for at least 10 minutes at a time, and will need to have an evaluation by Fox Chase's rehabilitation department physician. The cost is $60 and financial assistance is available. If interested, please call the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at 215-728-2592.

"Our hope is that people will continue exercising and practicing mindfulness beyond this program, making it a lifelong commitment," Kozempel adds.

Learn more about support services offered at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

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