Andy Jackson
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Coping with the pyschological impact of blood cancer

Andy Jackson
Posted by
22 Jul 2015

Patients share their tips and advice on ways to cope with the psychological impact of blood cancer

The physical symptoms and side effects of treatment are well documented and doctors and nurses have developed ways to minimise their impact on patients. However being diagnosed with blood cancer also presents patients with a huge psychological challenge which can almost be more difficult to come to terms with than the treatment itself.

Official support and advice on how to cope with the emotional and psychological aspect of blood cancer are out there with Macmillan's Getting Support section an excellent starting point however here are 8 top tips from patients who have been through blood cancer which may also be of use: 

1. Seek peer support

No one should go through blood cancer alone and with the emergence of patient support groups, online blood cancer forums and Facebook groups and pages run by patients for patients means you don't have to. 

A number of patients commented on the benefits of such resources. Emma Groves wrote:

Nicola Taylor also spoke about the value of support groups and talking to others that understand where you're coming from having been there themselves in her comment:

If you're interested in getting in contact with others affected by blood cancer the Patient Experiences section of our website is an excellent starting point. Take a browse, leave a comment or even join the community and share your own experiences - something which in its own right can really help you get to grips with the psychological side of blood cancer.

There are also a number of outstanding support groups available on Facebook including CML UK for chronic myeloid leukaemia patients and the UK Hodgkin's Lymphoma Support Group.

2. Take advantage of any psychological support offered

Many stll have reservations about seeking professional support feeling it's a sign of weakness, however patients who took advantage of it were unanimous in their praise of it as a resource on Facebook. Rick Zingsheim wrote: 

Fellow patient Jane Bednarcyzyk was even more complimentary speaking of how the service she received helped her put her life back together in so many ways:

3. Take every day as it comes

This sounds a simple one but it's also true and for lymphoma patient Louise Macleod not thinking too far ahead was essential to helping her through treatment. She wrote: 

4. Develop coping strategies

For patients the key to getting through the bad days and maximising the good ones during treatment was the development of coping strategies. For Andy Workman it was music, plants, meditation and humour:

For Katie Seymour it was about finiding a positive space and not letting people shift her from it (apart from the occasional off day!):

Ultimately there is no right or wrong strategy to adopt, the key is finding one that works for you.

5. Share your emotions, accept offers of help and don't be afraid to cry!

One of the most shared pieces of advice by patients was to remain positive whenever possible. This undoubtedly helps but what's probably more useful (and realistic) as a piece of advice is to remain open and honest about your feelings.

You are going to have times when you are filled with self doubt and feel like you can't go on. The key is to talk to people you feel comfortable with about how your feeling. As patient Em Ward explains you're not a robot and admitting that you're frightened, scared or just plain fed up is not a sign of weakness:

Accepting help from others is not a sign of weakness either and can see you put yourself under more strain as Deborah Holt makes clear:

6. Set goals & never lose sight of the bigger picture

When you start treatment doctors often have to make you sicker to get you better again. It's a strange concept to get your head around but that's essentially what they do. When you're having an off day you have to try and see the bigger picture and remember that the sickness is only temporary and will lead to benefits in the long-term.

That's easier said than done but keeping a journal of plans and dreams for after you complete treatment really helped Anh Armstrong when she was undergoing treatment:

7. Exercise if you can

Gentle to moderate levels of exercise release endorphins into the bloodstream which have a really positive effect upon your brain and general mood. Being sick, lethargic and often in hospital can make excercising difficult but it has helped patients including Non-Hodgkin lymphoma patient Rachel Pletz who wrote:

8. Stop fighting things you can't control

Coming to terms with the fact that you have blood cancer and that elements are beyond your immediate control is extremely difficult. However, the sooner you can shift your perspective, the better according to Moe Tischler:

However, perhaps the best piece of advice came from Kev Cummins who wrote:

This ties in nicely with something that my mum told me not long before she sadly passed away from her own battle with cancer which is this: "Cancer can take hold of almost every part of your body but it can't take your soul unless you let it. Keep your soul and whatever happens to your body cancer will never, ever have won."

A huge thank you to everyone that provided tips and advice for this blog. You can read all the comments in full on the original Have Your Say post on Facebook.