There are many different kinds of blood cancer. Some are acute diseases that develop very quickly and require very aggressive treatment. Others are slow growing, chronic conditions that you might live with for many years. Some are curable, others are not. Blood cancers affect people at all different ages, from infants and young children to elderly people. Despite all these differences, there are guidelines or issues to think about as a survivor.
Cancer and cancer treatment can be rough. Many treatments, especially those for acute leukemias or aggressive forms of lymphoma make a patient very sick for months, while others for the more chronic forms of these diseases can continue for many years. Some types of blood cancers aren't treated at all until they begin to progress. It can be hard to think about taking care of yourself of staying healthy, but the more you can do to help yourself, the better you will feel. Talk to your treatment team about exercise and eating a good, balanced diet during and after treatment. Research shows that moderate levels of exercise can help cancer patients maintain overall good health and fight fatigue--but what you can do and when depends entirely on your specific situation. Don't smoke and limit your intake of alcoholic beverages.
Every cancer patient feels anxious as they go through the process of diagnosis and treatment. That anxiety often doesn't end when active treatment is concluded. In fact, entering into a follow up phase can bring its own uncertainties. For many patients with blood cancers, both the active treatment and follow up phases can last for many years.
Feeling anxious, scared or even depressed is a normal reaction to having cancer. Becoming a cancer patient means losing control over your life, wondering how long your life will be. It means physical and emotional changes. It has an impact on your family life and your relationships. No one should go through that alone. You might choose to find support from any number of sources--other survivors and support groups, family, friends, co-workers, your church or from trained mental health professionals. The important thing is to recognize that you are not alone and that it is okay to seek and accept help, whether it be an offer to take the kids to soccer practice, a yoga or mindful meditation class or professional counseling.
Leukemias and lymphomas and their treatments can have significant long term side effects. These are most prevalent and serious for people diagnosed when they are children or young adults. They include fertility issues, physical effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy and the risk of second cancers later in life. All of these issues should be discussed with the treatment team before beginning therapy as well as part of follow up. The potential long term effects of treatment are another reason why blood cancers should be treated in centers that are experienced in managing these conditions and can reduce or eliminate these risks as much as possible, as well as dealing with them when they do occur.
Every patient should have a treatment plan. The process begins with diagnosis and means keeping a careful record of everything that happens in your diagnosis and treatment. Some centers have online patient portals that compile all your records from doctors within the system and give you access to them. If you don't have that, then start a file from day one that includes lab reports, pathology reports, notes from doctor's appointments, and any other data that you accumulate.
When the time comes to stop active treatment, you should work with your treatment team to develop a follow up care plan. This should be a written document that you can understand and take with you to any other doctors that you see for any health problems you have in the future. Some centers have survivorship clinics that provide follow up to their patients, but other patients will return to their regular doctors. It is very important that any doctor who treats you for anything is aware of your cancer treatment history.
There are several online models for developing a written treatment plan. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has a very good one which can be found at their website, LAF.org.
Taking care of yourself, emotionally and physically, during and after cancer treatment is as important as the treatment itself. Cancer does change your life, but regardless of what kind of cancer you have, there are things you can do to help yourself cope with the challenges that cancer patients face. The most important thing is recognize and use the resources that are available to you from the day of diagnosis throughout your entire journey.