The emotional impact of treatment
Getting through a transplant and going home is always an enormous relief. But the weeks, months and years after a BMT can also be a time of great stress, apprehension and uncertainty. This is true not only for people who have had a transplant, but also for their partners, carers and family members. In many ways this is not at all surprising because BMT is not something people have gone through before and after a BMT, ‘everything has changed’.
After a bone marrow transplant people often experience a range of different emotions including:
- worry: particularly about relapse and the future
- anxiety: about being alone, about important relationships and about one’s appearance
- pressure: to return to way things were before, when things were ‘normal’
- sadness: particularly about lost time, lost opportunities and lost ‘life’.
While these feelings are normal, if ignored, severe or persistent, they can make it difficult to function and they can lead to other problems. It is very important not to ignore these feelings or simply hope they go away.
How can emotional issues be treated?
Whatever you are feeling, you are not alone and many things can be done to help you cope.
The first step in getting help for mental health issues is to talk to others (your GP, BMT team, friends and family) about the things you are feeling. Just speaking to others can help and once you have told others then they can help by providing support and getting further (expert) assistance.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to emotional issues and your GP and BMT team will help work out the best treatment for you.
Treatment may include medications and counselling. There are also a number of therapies available on-line that are free and anonymous.
You may be referred to a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist to assist with the management of emotional challenges after a BMT. This is especially important if you need ongoing help and if you have more serious anxiety or depression.
If you are experiencing a personal crisis or considering self-harm, hurting someone else or suicide, seek support immediately. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24 hours a day) and call your GP or clinical psychologist or psychiatrist (if you are already receiving treatment for mental health issues).
How can I look after my emotional health?
If you are struggling with the emotional or psychological impacts of BMT or you feel that you may have anxiety or depression, it is important to speak with your BMT team and general practitioner (GP). This is particularly important if feelings of anxiety, worry or depression occur on most days or last longer than two weeks.
Actions to try
- Take some reassurance from the fact that the things you are feeling generally lessen over time.
- Focus on the positive changes that have occurred after your BMT.
- Establish a daily routine, including activities that you enjoy.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Do regular exercise.
- Get outside. Go for a walk or a drive somewhere, or just go for a coffee.
- Take time to rest and relax when you need a break.
- Get enough sleep.
- Talk about your feelings with friends or family (this will help and they may be able to help).
- Consider joining a BMT support group where you can talk one-on-one with others who have experienced the same as you.
- Write down how you feel to help you recognise what you can do to address your feelings.
- Reflect on how you have previously managed stress.
- Ask your BMT team or GP if they think you would benefit from seeing a clinical psychologist.
Where can I find further information?
- Cancer Council NSW. Emotions and cancer: a guide for people with cancer, their families and friends. www.cancer.org.au
- Beyond Blue. Get immediate support. www.beyondblue.org.au
Who do I talk to about emotional health issues?
Don’t delay. Talk to your GP, BMT team, social worker or psychologist.