Receiving a diagnosis of leukemia can make you feel as if your life has gone into a tailspin and all your plans have been put on hold. Suddenly, your focus in life becomes treating your condition and getting well.
It's important to remember that your mental health is a crucial part of your overall health and well-being. Having cancer may require you to make some changes to your routine, but it shouldn’t change everything about your life.
Although it may seem impossible now, taking time for yourself to relax and de-stress is a valuable part of your recovery.
Here are nine tips to help you manage chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and prevent it from disrupting your daily routine.
1. Know that it’s OK to wait
Getting diagnosed with cancer often means starting treatment right away. That’s not always true when you have CLL.
This condition grows slowly and not everyone needs to be treated immediately. Sometimes, doctors will use a “watch and wait,” approach. The “watch” part is important. Your doctor will see you regularly for blood tests and will ask about your symptoms. Some people will never need treatment.
If you’re nervous about the wait, talk about it with your medical team. But try not to panic — research shows there are no risks to waiting to start treatment.
2. Ask for help
Coping with a cancer diagnosis while managing everything else in your life can be stressful. Don’t try to do everything on your own.
People around you will want to help. Some will jump in, but others will wait for you to make the request. Ask people to pitch in and do tasks that sap your energy — like cooking, cleaning, or running errands.
3. Stay active
CLL and its treatments can leave you so tired that it’s hard to even think about exercising. Yet staying active actually helps reduce fatigue. It can also help improve cancer symptoms.
No single exercise program is best for CLL. Do what feels good to you. When you do exercise, go at your own pace and stop if you don’t feel well.
4. Don’t push yourself
While it’s good to stay active, you don’t want to wear yourself out. Balance activity with rest. Set aside time each day for a nap. Put aside nonessential tasks until you feel up to doing them.
Listen to your body. When it feels tired or overwhelmed, stop and take a break.
5. Learn to live with CLL
Make peace with the fact that this disease will be with you for a long time. CLL is a chronic illness. In most cases, it’s not curable. But it is manageable. Follow the treatment your doctor prescribed to stay as healthy as possible, and you should be able to live a full and fulfilling life.
That said, try not to let cancer take over every part of your world. Keep doing the things you love and have fun. Also, set aside time to be with the people you care about the most.
6. Manage treatment side effects
Once you do start treatment, expect to have some side effects. Chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, hair loss, diarrhea, and mouth pain. Some people have few and mild side effects, others experience more severe ones.
Let your doctor know if you do have any side effects. Treatments are available to help manage them. Once you finish with treatment, side effects should go away with time.
7. Eat a well-rounded diet
CLL treatments can change the way food tastes and cause nausea and other symptoms that ruin your appetite. It’s important to eat a balanced diet to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss. Your doctor or a dietitian can help you create a meal plan of healthy foods that taste good to you right now.
You may need to avoid a few foods, including uncooked fish and meat. Harmful bacteria in raw foods could make you sick because CLL puts you at higher risk of infection.
8. Avoid infections
CLL increases your risk of catching an infection because it damages the white blood cells that help your body fight off germs. You don’t have to live in a bubble, but you should take some steps to prevent getting sick.
One of the best ways to impede infection is to wash your hands often during the day. Use warm water and soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Also get all your recommended immunizations, including the pneumonia vaccine and your annual flu shot. Your doctor will tell you if you need any other vaccines to protect you.
9. Look for support
With everything you have going on, you may feel isolated and alone. But you’re not. Talk about any worries you have with your partner, friends, and family. See a psychologist or counselor for solutions to problems you can’t overcome on your own.
Another place to find help is at a CLL support group. Joining a support group will let you connect with others who really get it. You may be able to find a group through your local hospital, or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
A cancer like CLL can take over every part of your life. Manage your disease by following the treatment your doctor prescribed, but also take time to care for yourself. Eat right, exercise, and get support when you need it, so you can continue to live a full life with CLL.