BACKGROUND: Cancer-related fatigue (CrF) is a common and disruptive symptom that may be experienced during and after cancer. Research into the subjective experience of fatigue in this group is required. The common sense model of self-regulation of health and illness (SRM) addresses personal beliefs or mental representations-whether medically sound or unsubstantiated- that a person holds about a health issue. The current study assesses if the SRM could be used as a theoretical framework for organizing the experiences of people with CrF, with a view to identifying methods to address fatigue in cancer survivors.
METHOD: Four focus groups were held with a total of 18 cancer survivors who reported they experienced 'significant fatigue or reduced energy.' A thematic analysis was conducted within the framework of the SRM.
RESULTS: Findings were aligned with the SRM, with participants discussing fatigue with reference to representation, coping, and appraisal of symptoms. In particular, the wider social context of CrF was frequently addressed. Perceived inadequacies in support available to those with lingering fatigue after the completion of cancer treatment were highlighted by the participants.
CONCLUSION: This study explored the subjective experience of fatigue after cancer using the SRM. CrF should be approached as a complex psychosocial issue and considered from the patient perspective to facilitate better understanding and management of symptoms. The SRM is an applicable framework for identifying modifiable factors that could lead to improved coping with CrF in post-treatment cancer survivors.