18.4 PTC Cancer Life Phases: Blood Cancers Recovery
Once you've lived through the first three life stages of dealing with cancer - PREVENTION, DIAGNOSIS and TREATMENT, we face long term recovery and practices that make that the best living possible, hopefully, cancer-free for many, many years. Those practices include maintaining vigilance of PREVENTION with regular self-exams and periodic testing to continue to catch any future cancers early on with a prompt DIAGNOSIS and TREATMENT. The following will help live beyond that TREATMENT experience with long term RECOVERY . . .
What is the recovery process like?If you get chemotherapy, the timelines and recovery are different. It depends on how long you have chemotherapy for, and how well it works For a bone marrow transplant, your doctors will decide if you need to stay in the hospital, can go home that same day, or some combination of the two. If you have to be in the hospital, they will probably have you come in the day before for the pre-transplant chemo or radiation treatments. If you stay in the hospital, after the transplant, you will be put in a private room with a special air filter that helps with preventing you from getting an infection. The stages of the transplant are that you get conditioning treatment first. This is when they give you a really high dose of chemo or radiation to make space in the bone marrow for the new cells and to help make sure your immune system does not reject the new cells. This treatment also helps destroy any remaining cancer cells in your body before transplant. Chemo is done through an IV-type thing called a central venous catheter and/or pills. Radiation for this is done for your whole body that can be done in one session or could be over a few days. The conditioning treatment stage can be really uncomfortable because of how high the doses of chemo and/or radiation are. You will likely feel sick, and it might take months to fully recover. Once conditioning treatment starts, which is the chemo and radiation before the transplant, you can’t change your mind about finishing the whole bone marrow transplant procedure, so be sure to ask your doctor all your questions and make sure that you really understand this process for yourself. A few days after the conditioning treatment, you will receive your transplant of the stem cells in the bone marrow transplant.
How long does it take?The procedure itself can take a few weeks. It can take months to recover from the high doses of chemo and radiation required to do the transplant. If you get a bone marrow transplant, the time it takes to start to see a steady return of normal blood counts depend on the patient and transplant type but is between about 2-6 weeks. In order for doctors to decide you’re ready to go home, you have to make sure you don’t have a fever for 48 hours, you can keep pills down for 48 hours, your nausea and vomiting is controlled with medicine, and they will check some blood counts. They will also make sure you have someone to help you at home in a safe and supportive environment.
What types of support would a patient need?The first few days after transplant can feel like an emotional roller coaster because you will feel very sick and your blood counts will be low before the transplant “takes.” It is really important to have a lot of encouragement from your loved ones during that time especially. You will need someone to take care of you at all times for the first few weeks. It is a good idea to have a backup caregiver in case the person you had taking care of you gets sick and can’t be around you because they could get you sick. You will also need that person to have a car or trusted way to go to and from the clinic. You will likely have to go to the clinic every day for a few weeks if you have your transplant as an outpatient procedure, rather than staying in the hospital. Be sure you talk to your transplant team about when you need to call them, and how to reach them.
What resources are available?You can seek support from nutritionists, counseling services, pain management professionals or maybe even physical therapy. Also, be sure to seek social support by surrounding yourself with supportive and helpful friends and family members. Some cancer survivors also find it really helpful to join an online group of other cancer survivors because they feel well-understood by those people and can talk openly about their experiences with one another.