8 Things I’d Tell Someone Just Diagnosed with Blood Cancer
Prevention & Treatment A survivor shares the most important things he says he’d tell anyone — including himself— if they’ve just recently diagnosed with a blood cancer.
Being diagnosed with cancer is one of the most devastating things that can happen to someone, but there are many things that can help make it easier. And while I truly believe that there is always a second, more constructive way of looking at things, it takes time to do so. I know it did for me.
1. Ask as much as you can and write it all down
A lot of information is thrown at you almost at once after a diagnosis, and pretty much all of it is useful. It’s wise to have a pen and notepad handy, from day one, not just to help remember or note down important information, but also to write down the hundreds of questions that’ll come to your mind.
2. Build an army
It’s often said that at your darkest hours, you’ll find your truest friends. As a 17-year-old kid in a hospital, I needed friends or, at the very least, people to keep up with what was going on. But why leave it to chance? Not everyone knows how to handle the news, I barely knew how to myself. But those who did reach out changed my life. You don’t have to do it as drastically as shouting it out to the world, as I did; you can restrict it to those closest to you. But cancer can be a lonely thing and the battle’s much easier when you have others by your side.
3. Don’t let the word chemotherapy scare you
I won’t kid you, chemo isn’t fun and many are still brutal. But as years have gone by, many new and more targeted therapies have emerged, causing less side effects while also being more effective. Many don’t require you going in to a hospital room at all and the major complications of many chemotherapies can often be mitigated by greatly improved anti-nausea and pain medications and the like.
But even if it is bad, which it can be, remember there’s always a reason they’re doing this to you.
4. Pay attention to infection control
One of the more threatening side effects of many chemos for blood cancer patients is neutropenia — the loss of the cells responsible for your immunity. Chemotherapies often target fast growing cells and your bone marrow, which houses the rapidly-dividing blood making stem cells of your body, is one of the most affected regions, which is why this happens.
During the weeks you are neutropenic, take every infection control protocol possible. Simple things can be the difference between an uneventful stay in hospital and a long one. So make sure you do them.
5. Don’t ignore the practicalities
There are many small things that will be the last thing on your mind during the first few days that can make your life easier. Try and sort them out before going in. Things like insurance, parking, hospital protocols, pharmacy location, etc. Your social worker is often your best friend in all this.
6. Plan to be bored
My doctors used to say: “If you’re bored, that’s good. It means you’re not sick.” But after a 55 day stay in hospital, you almost wouldn’t mind being sick. Books ended up being my savior. For others, it may be movies, TV, cards, crosswords, or chats or Skype or Facetime. Things like that make your stay that much more bearable, and can be a vital distraction in rough patches.
7. Consider your nurses to be your best friends
My nurses did not only care for me, 24/7 — they also held my hand in painful procedures, took time to sit down and chat to me and my family. They were my best friends and second mothers and fathers in the toughest times of my life, and I can’t thank them enough. They don’t even need your thanks. It’s what they do. But anything you can do to make their life easier will be hugely appreciated.
8. Remember that you can and will still smile again
Those first few days after chemo were the worst of my life. Fear, anger, tears, depression and this one question kept swirling around in my head and heart: “Why me?” Nothing anyone could say could console me. It was only after a moment of sheer and utter desolation that I decided to try something.
I took a step back, looked at what had happened to me as if it had all happened to someone else, and thought, what I should do. When I did, I realized that, though it did suck, in the end it was me — my brain — my mind that was causing all my angst. I hated that feeling, I didn’t want to feel it, so why was I doing that to myself? Instead, I chose to smile, and keep my head up.