COVID has created a sense of low-level brewing anxiety in me that I have never experienced before. Current events add to this with inflation, ongoing war in Ukraine, and supply chain issues all contribute to feeling overwhelmed with many unknowns. The unknown often creates fear.
Living with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is one of the greatest unknowns. You don’t know exactly how you’ll respond to treatment, what side effects you may have or how long the treatment will be effective You don’t know if your insurance coverage will change and impact the cost of your treatment, or if the financial assistance program will have funds when it is time for you to re-apply.
AML causes deeper and even more personal unknowns - will you be around when your child graduates from high school, gets married or to see grandchildren? Will you be able to enjoy retirement with your loved ones?
When my husband was diagnosed with blood cancer seven years ago at the age of 39, a colleague connected us to her friend who also had blood cancer. He spoke at length with my husband and gave him a piece of advice that has guided us through the unknowns the past seven years.
He told him there was a choice that he must make on a daily basis. My husband would have to decide which one of these thoughts would be allowed to occupy his mind for the day.
2. Faith and hope
Each one of these types of thoughts would come with profound consequences.
Anyone with AML (and their family) knows there is plenty of fear and doubt to go around. We found when we focused on those things, we sunk deeper in despair with compounding fear and even more doubt.
However, when we worked to focus on even an ounce of faith, it generated more hope. We started small. We did our research, found a qualified specialist and had faith that the recommended treatment would work. As we moved along, we continued to research, discuss options with the care team and had faith that the treatment my husband was choosing was right for him and that it would be effective. As family and friends saw our faith, they contributed their collective faith and our hope grew.
This is not to say there were not (and continue to be) hard days. There have been days filled with discouragement, despair, sadness and definitely fear. It is a continuous effort to focus our thoughts, perspective and energy on having faith and not letting our fear take over.
My husband shares that for him the mental challenge of living with cancer is harder than the physical. The impact of AML on mental and emotional health is real. Maintaining health in these areas contributes to physical health. It is important to give as much attention and focus to our mental health as we do our physical health.
Many have never struggled with their mental health until a diagnosis of AML. It can be hard to acknowledge the challenge and recognize the need for help. Following these three steps can help:
There are many organizations available to offer support including:
May is national mental health awareness month which started over 50 years ago to bring awareness to the mental and emotional challenges experienced by so many. These challenges are REAL and need to be recognized and treated. They are not a sign of weakness. They can often be difficult to understand and accept, especially if you had previously been healthy (both physically and mentally) and not had to deal with these challenges before AML. Let’s work to break the stigma of mental and emotional health! Take action to provide yourself with the support, care and treatment needed to achieve health.
about the author
Rozalynn is the HealthTree Coach Director and wife of blood cancer patient Richard Hite. Rozalynn is an occupational therapist and mother of three beautiful children.