Coping with Blood Cancer

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2018

A diagnosis of blood cancer can change a person’s life dramatically, and living with blood cancer can be difficult, and at times, the disease may seem all-consuming. Both the symptoms of blood cancer and the side effects of treatment can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life. Fortunately, there are ways to support yourself and get support from others to help you through your journey.

Coping with blood cancer

When a person is first diagnosed, there are frequently many questions and unknowns. It can be helpful to focus on things you can control, such as learning about your disease, asking friends and family for help, finding support groups, and learning ways to manage your stress.1

The treatment for blood cancer may continue for many years, and for some people, a cure isn’t possible. In some cases, blood cancer can be managed as a chronic condition. Managing blood cancer as a chronic condition is challenging, but there are treatment options available. Getting support from others as you deal with a potential recurrence and treatment can help you through the stress and ups and downs.1

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In some cases, after all appropriate and necessary treatments have been tried, the cancer may continue to progress or worsen, and doctors may determine it’s best to stop treatment. Or, it may be the patient who decides that it’s time for treatment to stop, when the side effects of treatments are no longer worth the impact on the quality of their life. Hospice care and end-of-life planning can be helpful for people who are coping with late-stage blood cancer.2

Fear of relapse or recurrence

After a diagnosis of blood cancer, there is a chance of the cancer returning, and this fear is one of the most persistent and distracting aspects that cancer survivors have to face. This fear may be especially intense at certain times, like the anniversary of your diagnosis, right before a follow-up appointment, or when a new symptom occurs in your body. While this fear may never go away, many patients learn ways to keep it from controlling their lives.3

Unique issues in childhood blood cancer

There are some unique challenges when the person who is diagnosed is a child. The types of cancer that occur in children are often different than cancers in adults, and there are differences in treatment between children and adults. Although the survival rate for blood cancers in children has been steadily rising, there is growing awareness of the long-term effects from the treatment for cancers in children.1

Supporting yourself through diet and exercise

Proper nutrition is critical during treatment for blood cancer, as it supplies the body with the nutrients it needs to heal, recover from injury or illness, and handle stress. Since blood cancer and its treatment can place both physical and emotional stress on the body, nutrition is a key component to keeping the body strong and healthy.4

Equally important to a healthy body is physical activity. While treatment for blood cancer may reduce a person’s energy level or stamina, it is possible for people who are currently in treatment for blood cancer to maintain some activity, and the benefits of exercise, physically and emotionally, can help improve a person’s health and well-being (check with your doctor if you have an exercise restriction).1

Managing blood cancer related pain

Pain may occur as a symptom of blood cancer or as a side effect from treatment. Managing pain is important as chronic pain can wear down the immune system, slow the body’s ability to heal, and may lead to, or contribute to, depression. Fortunately, there are many effective strategies for pain management, including a variety of medications and complementary approaches.1,4

Finding support

While family and friends may provide much of a person’s daily emotional or physical support, it can also be helpful for people who are dealing with blood cancer to find others who are going through, or who have been through, a similar experience. Support groups are available online and in-person through hospitals and non-profit organizations.