What It’s Like To Go Through Treatment for Bone Marrow Cancer
Posted On June 30, 2022
Being diagnosed with cancer is never easy. You’re thrown headfirst into a world you know little about, and it’s filled with worries and fears as you wonder how you’ll cope. While some patients are able to maintain their sense of normal while going through cancer treatment, others develop symptoms of “cancer disbelief” and struggle to deal with the reality of their diagnosis. It’s not uncommon for patients to experience anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the months and years after their cancer treatment.
No one ever thinks they’ll become a cancer survivor. Once the initial shock of a diagnosis wears off, you quickly begin to think about a future free from the disease. Unfortunately, many patients develop secondary tumors or receive a second diagnosis when their cancer comes back as a different type. For others, the cancer treatment they receive doesn’t work or has permanent side effects. In these cases, there may be little that can be done, other than continue to hope for the best.
For many patients, their cancer journey doesn’t end with their initial diagnosis. Many people who receive a stem cell transplant to treat their cancer experience the same symptoms as they did before the transplant. These can include anything from fatigue to a decline in hair or weight. Other patients may experience long-term side effects of the treatment, such as an increase in cancer risk, damage to nerves, or memory loss
What is bone marrow transplantation?
Bone marrow transplantation is the process by which a patient’s stem cells are removed, genetically modified to match the patient, and then injected back into the patient’s bloodstream or bone marrow. The goal is to create a genetically balanced set of stem cells in the patient’s body to better fight the disease.
This process is typically used to treat blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, but has been known to work for other types of cancer, such as breast cancer and a few types of sarcoma.
Why is it done?
Bone marrow transplantation is a very effective way to treat many types of cancer, particularly blood cancers. With regular blood transfusions, many cancer patients can get by on a single unit of blood. This can cause anemia, fatigue, and low blood flow, which can be dangerous for patients.
Stem cell transplants restore the body’s natural ability to produce blood cells, which can improve anemia, prevent exhaustion, and increase blood flow.
These transplants are also known to improve the quality of life for cancer patients, allowing them to lead full and active lives.
How does a bone marrow transplant work?
Bone marrow is a special type of tissue found in the bones of humans and other animals. It’s known as the “marrow” because it produces specialized cells called “stem cells” that can turn into cells that make up the blood, immune system, and other organs.
In general, the process of harvesting stem cells from a patient’s bone marrow, genetically modifying them to match the patient, and then injecting them back into the patient’s bloodstream is known as a “bone marrow transplant.”
The donor stem cells are harvested from the donor’s bone marrow and genetically modified to match the patient. The modified stem cells are then infused back into the patient’s bloodstream.
How long does it take to recover from a bone marrow transplant?
Bone marrow transplant patients experience significant side effects, which can last for one to two years after the transplant. These effects include significant fatigue, damage to nerves, and a low red-blood-cell (RBC) count.
There is no set timeline for when a patient should try to return to normal activities following a bone marrow transplant. The best course of action is to discuss this matter with your oncology team.
What are the risks of a bone marrow transplant?
Like all types of cancer treatments, bone marrow transplantation comes with its share of risks. Major risks of a bone marrow transplant include infection, graft-versus-host disease, and immune system damage.
Other risks include low platelet count, anemia, and bleeding. Donor stem cells may also cause graft versus host disease, which is when the donor cells attack the patient’s body. Immune system damage, low RBC count, low platelet count, and anemia are considered permanent side effects of the transplant.
How can you prepare for a bone marrow transplant?
Bone marrow transplants are often done as an outpatient procedure, which means you can go home the same day. However, you will be hospitalized for three to four days.
You should start thinking about what you’ll do if you receive a bone marrow transplant as soon as your doctor tells you about the cancer diagnosis. Here are a few steps you can take to prepare:
- Make a list of all your insurance details, including coverage for mental health services. Make sure to keep this list in a safe place. You may need it if you have to struggle with depression or anxiety after your bone marrow transplant.
- Get in touch with any support groups you belong to, or invite friends to support you.
- Learn as much as you can about bone marrow transplants, including when and why they’re done, and the procedure itself. This will help you during your recovery and after your transplant.
How can you cope with the emotional symptoms of a bone marrow transplant?
Many cancer patients worry about the toll their disease will take on their physical health. They’re often in a state of denial and denial about the toll it’s taking on them emotionally as well.
You should open up to your friends and family as soon as possible, because they’ll be able to offer support and suggestions on how to deal with the emotional symptoms of a bone marrow transplant.
If you develop depression or anxiety, there are a few ways to cope:
- Accept your diagnosis and talk to your doctor. Tell them how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, and they can help you get through this.
- Identify the cause of your depression or anxiety and find ways to deal with it. For example, if you’re worried about the disease coming back, talk to your doctor about your concerns and see what they can do to help.
- Reach out to support groups online, such as the WINGS Support Group for cancer patients.
Tips for coping with cancer and going through a bone marrow transplant
- Remember that you’re not alone. Other patients have gone through the same thing, and there are support groups for patients and their families.
- Stay active. Exercise is known to improve mood and keep the immune system strong.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is crucial for the body to heal and stay healthy.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Vitamins and minerals are important for keeping your body and mind healthy.
Cancer is a frightening diagnosis, but you can prepare for the diagnosis and treatment by being proactive and discussing your options with your physician. There are many things you can do to prepare for your bone marrow transplant, and most importantly, you can take care of yourself.
When you’re going through cancer treatment, it’s important to remember that you are not alone and there are resources to help you get through this difficult time. Remember to eat healthy, get your daily exercise, and remember to take your medications as directed by your doctor so that you can complete your treatment and get back to living your life.