Coping with leukemia is a complex matter that involves much more than working with the best cancer care team and going through treatment. From the emotional roller coaster of prolonged treatment to the physical concerns and social issues, having leukemia can take a heavy toll on your overall well-being.
To provide more helpful information during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, our cancer care team here at New Hope Unlimited is sharing some strategies that may help patients live their best life, even with leukemia.
Emotionally Coping With Leukemia
You are not alone. According to the Leukemia Research Foundation, more than 382,000 people are living with leukemia or are in remission.
The emotions of someone who receives a diagnosis of leukemia cannot be described in words. For most men and women, they experience fluctuating emotions, sometimes within a single day. The bottom line, however, is that there is no right or wrong way to feel.
1. Unexpected Reality
Some people, including those who have battled other types of cancer, completely understand the roller coaster ride of leukemia. Some patients consider cancer as something treatable, and then they either live or die. More patients are unaware of the fact that treatment can take a long time or be lifelong.
Induction treatment for acute leukemias can be aggressive, and undergoing consolidation and maintenance treatments may take years. Meanwhile, there are times when treatment for chronic leukemia may continue for the rest of one’s life. Even when the goal is to cure leukemia, it may take several years to get there.
Exhaustion and the sheer nature of conventional treatments for leukemia can lead to isolation. Induction chemotherapy and high-dose chemotherapy can put patients at risk of infection. And, even when the patient’s friends and family members are healthy, doctors often recommend special precautions during visits.
In acute myelocytic leukemia (AML), initial treatment usually requires hospitalization for around four to six weeks, which is different from the outpatient infusions done every couple of weeks for other cancers.
3. Positive Rays of Light
Phone calls, video calls, texts, and emails can help friends and family stay in touch, which can have a tremendous impact on a patient’s emotional well-being. The patient may need to invite others to communicate with them through these channels, as some may think that reaching out is bothering the patient.
The best emotional support often comes from people who know firsthand what someone with leukemia or cancer is going through. Joining a leukemia support group can be invaluable as a patient can converse with others coping with the same challenges. The patient can talk to their nurse about in-person meetings, or seek help checking for local support groups online.
Although nobody would ever want to be diagnosed with leukemia, the road is not all negative.
Physically Coping With Leukemia
A number of physical issues can arise during and after leukemia treatment.
- Constant Fatigue
Cancer fatigue is one of the top symptoms that patients mention while coping with leukemia. Unlike ordinary tiredness, cancer fatigue can persist even with rest and limited daily activities.
Coping with fatigue during leukemia treatment can be easier by asking for help and allowing others to help, as well as prioritizing and planning one’s activities. Some alternative treatments for cancer, such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and many others, are often effective in reducing the feeling of fatigue.
Some causes of cancer-related fatigue may be treatable. It’s important for a patient to talk to their doctor even if they believe the symptom is not serious.
- Pain Management
Some people with leukemia experience significant pain, whereas others are fortunate to have minimal or no pain. The first step in coping with cancer-related pain is to understand that no one should endure it to save face or act brave. The more courageous thing to do is admit to experiencing discomfort, and to talk with an oncologist about ways to address it. Pain can have a negative impact on both the emotional and physical state of a cancer patient.
There are different types of pain associated with leukemia, ranging from bone pain (as a result of an overactive bone marrow) to nerve pain (neuropathic pain). There are specific treatment approaches depending on the type of pain. These may include both non-opioid and opioid pain medications, integrative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), or interventional pain techniques like nerve blocks and spinal cord stimulation. Stress management techniques have also been found to reduce the amount of pain a person with cancer is experiencing. If the pain becomes intolerable, the oncologist may refer the patient to a pain management specialist.
Socially Coping With Leukemia
A patient’s social circle and the way he or she interacts with others can change during and after leukemia treatments. Close friends may show themselves less and less because they are unsure of how to deal with the situation. New friends and acquaintances, often those who have battled cancer themselves or had a loved one with cancer, may rise to the occasion. Family may treat the patient differently as well, which can either be helpful, stressful, or both. Last, the way the patient interacts with others can become difficult, to say the least, as they work to navigate their cancer and focus on the most important thing—their health.
As always, communication is key. This may include saying no to something the patient said yes to in the past, and maintaining strong boundaries, even if it becomes tedious yet necessary to reinforce them from time to time. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that nobody can read minds. Being direct instead of hoping a loved one will see or recognize a need, can help lessen the chances of anyone getting hurt or harboring resentment.
It’s also important to honor the patient’s wishes and needs. Conflict can arise when patients and their family have different preferences in treatment approaches. Patients need to sincerely and calmly thank the people in their lives for their suggestions, but ultimately, the decision should be in the hands of the person undergoing treatment. There is also an option to meet in the middle. For instance, here at New Hope Unlimited, our cancer care team specializes in a combination of conventional and holistic cancer treatments for leukemia. Integrating treatments from both sides of medicine reduces the side effects associated with high-dose chemotherapy, radiology, and other mainstream methods.
Are you interested in safe, less invasive ways to address cancer? Call us at 480-757-6573 today to schedule a consultation.