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Eight tips for coping with the mental impact of blood cancer

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
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22 Jul 2015

We asked people affected by blood cancer to share things they do to stay mentally healthy.

Two women have a chat over a cup of tea

1. "Find people who really understand what it’s like"

It can be helpful to find others who understand your experience and can provide moral support and advice. Lots of people told us they'd done so online. Emma, the mother of an 11-year-old son who is now 15 months in remission from anaplastic large cell lymphoma, says:

“Use Facebook groups to find others who have been through or are going through the same [thing]. It’s so reassuring that all those feelings you are experiencing before and after treatment are completely normal. It’s lovely finding people who understand what it’s like.”

You may find our forum useful. It’s a dedicated place to discuss blood cancer, ask questions and share recommendations. See the 'what helps you cope?' thread on our forum.

2. "It's good to talk to an expert"

Counselling, therapy and other forms of psychological support can be incredibly helpful.

Rick says: “I remember the first time [my psychologist] came in before my first treatment. I said ‘oh, I don’t usually need to talk with people like you’. Now, I’m two years out of treatment for blood cancer, but still talk with her when I have my low points. It really helps.”

Jane said the service she received “[was] brilliant and not only helped me with my illness. They helped me write my will and deal with the end of an abusive marriage, the repossession of my house and my return to work. They allowed me to talk in a way that I could not to anyone else.”

3. "Live day-by-day"

Louise, who has lymphoma, said taking one day at a time was essential to helping her through treatment:

“I learned to live day-by-day. If I felt panicked by something, I would try to concentrate on the next 24 hours – and, generally, there was nothing to worry about in the next 24 hours. It stopped me worrying about results or tests that were weeks off.

I also tried to plan something nice for every day: a nice lunch, a shopping trip, watching the Bake Off. I learned to live in the now, and life was much more bright.”

4. "Allow yourself the bad days"

Many said that they developed coping strategies over time. For Katie, it was about finding a positive space:

“Find a space in your head that makes you feel positive and safe. And don’t let anyone shift you from there. Have a sentence to disregard people’s (sometimes stupid) opinions. And lastly, allow yourself the bad days, then pick yourself up and trundle on.”

Paul, a Bloodwise ambassador, pictured outdoors with his bike

5. "Exercise if you can"

Gentle-to-moderate exercise releases endorphins which have a positive effect on your general mood.

Rachel, who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, wrote: “Exercise. Even just a little. Every day if you can.”

6. "Be honest about how you feel"

Many said that it’s important to remain positive, open and honest about your feelings.

Em said: “Be honest about how you feel. Don’t let people tell you that you are being negative when you are actually scared. And who wouldn’t be? Being scared is not being weak, it’s being human.

Talk about it when you need to. Do things you enjoy with those you enjoy being with and remember, on the bad days, that they won’t all be bad. Accept offers of help from people. And remember: ‘when life seems like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top’.”

Deborah said: “Don’t be afraid to talk. No question is silly, and believe me, I’ve asked lots. I thought I was coping and I’d put on my happy face for everyone. But inside, I was still screaming. So I got help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

7. "Keep a strong, positive attitude"

Keeping a journal of plans and things you want to do once you’ve finished treatment helped Anh:

“I decided from the start to fight and keep a strong, positive mental attitude. I started a journal of all things I wanted to do, places I wanted to visit and foods I wanted to eat. I wrote down all my dreams and plans, little or big, and focused on those. I’m now very happily ticking these items off.”

8. "Stay mindful and in the moment"

Living with cancer can make you feel helpless. But the sooner you can shift your perspective, the better.

As Moe says: “The first thing I did was change my perspective. I accepted having to get a transplant as just another thing one has to do, like pay taxes or get car insurance. And I didn’t worry about it, I just got all my ducks in a row, so when the deadline hit, everything was done.”

Kev wrote: “I try to stay mindful. In the moment. Things can go wrong, there can be setbacks and secondary conditions (acute and chronic graft versus host disease for me). If you stop worrying about what has happened in the past, you have more focus and energy for what can happen in the present.”

This article and the Facebook comments it references were originally published in July 2015.

We provide information and support for anyone affected by blood cancer. Our Support Line is open from Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm.
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