Facing The Mental Side of Blood Cancer

When you go through a blood cancer diagnosis and its many treatments, such as I have with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it is very common to find yourself totally exhausted, drained, and unmotivated.

Everything seems impossible

Every physical activity feels like an impossible task and forgets about doing anything requiring mental energy or clarity. It is almost impossible to focus on those things in your life that are important like remembering passwords, going grocery shopping, paying bills, balancing a checking account or, God forbid, trying to read a book or plan a menu.

That is exactly why during and after chemo it was a priority for me to find a few small ways to begin re-engaging both my body and mind

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Tips to get my mind on track

A couple of things I found helpful in my quest to get back on track have included:

  • I decided to avoid and/or remove as many distractions in my life as possible. One of the first things I did was to turn off the television more often along with silencing my lifeline --- a smartphone. Why? Because both were interfering with my ability to stay focused. I have been known to put my cell phone in a drawer in another room so that I cannot see or hear it. That said it's a good idea to remember where you put it but that is a different story.
  • I found having some background music helped my concentration. Personally, I am more likely to listen to meditation sounds or white noise versus any type of music that has an ongoing rhythm or something I can hum along with.
  • I also avoid multitasking. Simply put, I try to stay focused on one task at a time. And I do so until whatever “IT” is has been completed. Then and only then will I move on to something else. That dedication to single focus has really helped me avoid being distracted. I may not get it all done in a day but I am back on it the very next day.
  • I also found it helpful to work in blocks of time. I am better able to write or read in the early morning hours for example. For some unknown reason, I can focus better between the hours of 6:00 AM and 10 AM but find it more difficult to write midday.
  • I make it a point to get 10 to 20 minutes of some type of physical activity every day. Initially, it was just walking across the living room. Over a period of time, I was walking up and down my driveway. As I slowly regained a sense of self, I tried a quick few minutes on my stationary bike. After a while,  I could actually get my heart pumping just a bit.

Adjusting to the reality

Several years ago, a health coach suggested  I might want to try getting to bed a bit earlier. Our bodies according to her apparently have a natural rhythm that thanks to modern technology and the internet makes it very easy for us to ignore. So rather than going to bed at 11:00 PM or later, she suggested  I try going to bed at 10 PM. Sure, enough after a week or so  I found myself sleeping better and longer. An additional benefit was not watching the tension-filled late-evening news before going to bed.

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Telling myself to focus

Finally, if I find myself mentally wandering off, I  stop and say out loud, “It's time to focus, Dennis.”

Those are just a few of the things I've been doing whenever I find myself losing motivation and/or focus as a blood cancer survivor. Hopefully one of these hints may be of help to someone looking for some different approaches and ideas.

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