Looking after yourself
Living with a blood cancer can have a high emotional effect as well as a physical impact. Life can be enormously stressful, and it is normal to experience many intense emotions at different times. Many different emotions and issues come up, some can be distressing and even overwhelming and they can take their toll on your sense of well-being. With time, help and a great deal of support you can learn to cope with your situation in an effective and positive way. Part of learning to cope effectively involves making deliberate decisions about looking after your emotional as well as your physical well-being.
It is important that you can talk to someone you trust or feel comfortable with, about how you are really feeling. This might be a friend or relative or it might be your doctor or nurse. Many people benefit from the support and guidance given by counselors, psychologists, social / welfare workers or pastoral care workers during this time. They can assist you in practical ways and help to identify healthy coping strategies to use during the difficult times.
Eating well is always important but it is especially important when you are coping with the extra physical and mental demands placed on you by cancer and cancer treatments. It is important that your diet provides you with the energy and nutrients needed to help meet these demands. There are many reasons however why your normal eating patterns can change and you may not feel like eating as much, or as well as you used to. The Leukaemia Foundations' Eating well' booklet provides lots of practical tips and strategies to help you to have as healthy, nutritious and enjoyable a diet as possible during treatment and beyond.
Your doctor or nurse will advise you on how to care for yourself while you are receiving treatment, what to expect and how to cope with any side-effects that may occur. They may also be able to provide you with some very useful written information. It is important that you report any side-effects you are experiencing to your nurse or doctor immediately because many of them can be treated successfully if detected early, reducing unnecessary discomfort.
Treatment can be exhausting and it is common to feel tired and fatigued for weeks and even months after treatment has finished. It is important to report how you are feeling to your doctor or nurse. They may be able to suggest steps that you can take that may improve how you are feeling. If your symptoms are due to severe anaemia, a blood transfusion may help to give you more energy. Incorporating a sensible balance of relaxation and exercise in your daily routine may help to increase your sense of well-being and control. Getting out into the open air and where possible doing some regular, gentle exercise is important for your general well being and it may also give you more energy.
If you haven't already done so, you might think about learning some relaxation techniques such as meditation and visual imagery. These can be very useful coping mechanisms and help you to gain a sense of control. Ask your doctor, nurse or social worker about any relaxation programs which may be run at the hospital. Alternatively they will be able to direct you towards useful resources that can teach you some useful relaxation techniques.
It is likely that treatment will have an impact on your physical appearance. Hair loss may be the first outward sign that you have cancer. It can be very difficult to deal with the physical changes you are experiencing and these may impact on your feelings of attractiveness, or how you feel about yourself as a woman or a man. Remember that you are still the same person on the inside. Over time your physical appearance will improve when the treatment finishes and you will not 'look like a patient' forever. In the meantime it is important to do things that make you feel good about yourself. This might include enjoying the company of friends and doing regular exercise and regular relaxation techniques.
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