In this video, CML patient Drew encourages other leukaemia patients to seek support with their mental health.
It’s natural to have a whole range of different thoughts, feelings and emotions after a blood cancer diagnosis and the emotional impact of a blood cancer can be just as difficult to cope with as the physical aspects of the disease.
Until you are diagnosed, there is no way of knowing how you will react and the impact it will have on you emotionally. Everybody is different and being told the news that you have a blood cancer will affect different people in different ways and there is no right way to feel.
Many people will experience many different feelings at different points in their blood cancer journey; for example, at the point of diagnosis, during treatment, at the end of treatment and during recovery.
It’s important for you to know that you will have good days, and not so good days; some feelings may feel strange or unfamiliar to you and you may feel as though you are on an emotional rollercoaster. These different feelings at different points in your diagnosis are perfectly normal and a valid response to a blood cancer diagnosis.
Common feelings and emotions
It is impossible to know how you will react to a diagnosis of a blood cancer. The range of emotions you feel are not a sign of weakness or mental illness. Common feelings include:
- Shock and disbelief that this is happening to you
- Helplessness and a loss of control
- Anger that this is happening to you
- Worry and anxiety about what you’re about to go through
- Fear about what is happening now and in the future, about the treatment you will receive and how you’ll get through it
- Stress because you and your family have so much to cope with
- Sadness and low mood about the impact the cancer is having on you and your family
- Guilt and blame that you could’ve done something to prevent your blood cancer
- Withdrawal and isolation from socialising and being around other people. It is okay to want to be alone sometimes. But if you withdraw for long periods, this may be a sign of depression, which you may need help with
- Denial that anything is wrong
Some people also describe feeling a sense of grief about the loss of their good health, aspects of themselves or the life that they once had.
Coping with depression
Despite the natural emotional ups and downs you might experience, this is not the same as having clinical depression. If you persistently feel low, helpless or lose interest in pleasurable activities, you may be suffering from depression. Depression is very common for people with blood cancer but it is important to remember that if you do feel like this, help does exist and it does not mean you’re a failure. It can be treated, but it is important that you talk through how you’re feeling with your GP or medical team. Depression can affect people in different ways, but symptoms and feelings can include:
- Sadness or a feeling of emptiness
- Negative and pessimistic
- Lost interest in pleasurable activities
- Difficulty sleeping
- Suicidal thoughts
There are many ways in which depression is treated, including medication and talking therapy.
What sorts of things will I have to cope with?
It is normal to have a strong emotional response to your illness because you will have to cope with a number of challenges and changes. These could include:
- The symptoms of the illness and the side effects of treatment such as fatigue, hair loss, infections, sickness, pain, lowered fertility
- Long periods in hospital or in isolation
- Having to make complex decisions
- Dealing with uncertainty
- Managing the demands of home and family life while caring for yourself
- Difficulties in your relationships
- Changes to your body and the way it looks and feels
- Reduced sexual intimacy / loss of libido
- Changes to your role, your identity and to your sense of self. For example, you might give up working; others may be helping to care for your children; or you may be the one who is used to helping others or being strong
Our support services
There are many ways to manage and cope with your emotions. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with loved ones, your partner or your GP can help.
If you need to talk to somebody impartial about your blood cancer, our helpline is available Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm and Thursday and Friday evenings 7pm – 10pm. The number to call is 08088 010 444 and is free from landlines and most mobile networks.