Calgary researchers are testing out light therapy as a new way of helping recovered cancer patients bounce back from fatigue.

Diane Franssen, a 66-year-old breast cancer survivor who participated in a pilot of the study, said light therapy made a significant difference in her energy and quality of life.

Franssen underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiation after being diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2012. She said after treatment she hit a wall of exhaustion that affected sleep and reduced stamina.

"It's a feeling of deep, deep exhaustion," she said.

"If I got up and had a shower, I had to rest for a couple of hours after that."

After four months of excessive physical and mental fatigue, a shining light turned her life around.

“I’ll never forget it. After about a week of using the light therapy, I woke up one morning and my exhaustion was gone — I felt totally different,” she said. 

Light therapy is already used to energize people with seasonal affective disorder and certain patients going through cancer treatment.

Now University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services researchers are testing whether it also works on recovered cancer patients like Franssen. 

'It's like you've woken up'

"Our daughter said, 'Mom, it's like you've woken up,'" said Franssen.

She feels like a different person, although it may be a few more years until she's completely back to normal.

Fatigue is said to be prevalent among cancer patients and distressing symptoms can last for several months or even years.

“We know that exercise and changes to diet can help some of these people regain their energy, but they involve complex behaviour changes that aren’t always feasible in many cases,” says research co-ordinator Jillian Johnson in a release.

“If light therapy proves to have some measurable benefits, then it could be an easily accessible and simple form of treatment with the potential to benefit many people.”

Researchers will look at 128 people who completed cancer treatments for at least three months to see if light therapy helps improve sleep, quality of life, immune function and measures of stress hormones.

More recovered cancer patients are needed to take part in the study.

To be eligible, cancer survivors must not be a shift worker or suffer from sleep apnea. Participants will be required to give blood, maintain a sleep diary, use a light therapy device daily for four weeks and visit a U of C lab four times.

Anyone interested in participating should phone 403-210-8606 or email lite@ucalgary.ca.