The side effects of leukemia treatment are many, and they can often leave one feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. Common treatments for this cancer include radiation and chemotherapy, both of which can take a toll on patients. If you or a loved one is undergoing leukemia treatment, here are some tips that may help you deal with some of the side effects:
One of the main side effects for most leukemia treatments is fatigue because the treatments will often affect healthy red blood cells in addition to targeting the cancer itself. In order to fight this lack of blood cells and the tiredness associated with it make sure to get plenty of rest and eat a well-balanced diet.
Foods that contain iron, such as molasses or green, leafy vegetables, can help the body transport oxygen more efficiently, and thus can help increase your energy level. If your red blood cell count becomes extremely low, doctors may recommend that you receive a blood transfusion, which can boost your own supply and help fight fatigue.
If a lack of red blood cells can make you tired, a lack of white blood cells can promote infection.
White blood cells are your body’s natural defense against foreign “invasions” such as bacteria. Leukemia treatments tend to affect white blood cell count, which means your body will be prone to infections during this time. Because of this, it is extremely important to avoid the spread of infection whenever possible by staying away from people who are sick and by washing and sanitizing your hands often.
Other things you can do to avoid getting infected include practicing good hygiene. Brush your teeth and shower daily. Use gloves when gardening, cleaning, or touching anything that might harbor bacteria and wash your hands afterward. Try to avoid cuts. If you are cut, clean the wound immediately with soap and warm water.
If you do get or suspect you have an infection, let your doctor know so that he or she can recommend an appropriate course of action. If your white blood cell count becomes too low, you may need to be hospitalized.
Patients undergoing treatment for leukemia often experience heavier-than-normal bleeding because their blood platelet count is low. Monitor any cuts or blood that you may receive to make sure the bleeding stops, and if not, call your doctor immediately. You may also experience nosebleeds or bleeding gums.
Nausea and vomiting are two of the most common side effects of chemotherapy treatment, but don’t assume that you will get sick or else your stress may make things worse. To deal with nausea, try eating small, infrequent meals or snacking on crackers or toast. Stay away from strong smells and spicy, sweet, or fatty foods.
For extreme nausea or vomiting, there are several highly effective treatment options available. Talk to your doctor to see if he or she can prescribe an anti-nausea medication that can help immensely.
The emotional side effects of leukemia treatments are often more subtle, but they can be just as trying. A good way to deal with the stress of the treatment process is to keep things in perspective. Most side effects of leukemia treatments are temporary—in other words, when the treatment is over you can expect the side effects to go away as well. You can also work to build a network of support with friends and family. Share what you are feeling with other people and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.