Feelings of worry, fear, and anxiety are common when living with cancer such as myeloma. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, almost half of people living with cancer report significant distress and anxiety. This anxiety can have a very real impact on a person’s mental health and well-being.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with myeloma, it’s important to understand why these worries may come up and how to deal with them. Though you may feel scared or uncertain at times, you don’t have to accept significant fear or anxiety while living with myeloma.
There are several factors that can cause anxiety in people who have been diagnosed with myeloma. Different people will have different responses to their diagnosis, and some may feel more anxious than others. Older adults, for instance, may face more emotional struggles after being diagnosed than others.
It’s common to feel afraid and anxious after a cancer diagnosis. You may find yourself worrying about all the uncertainties: Will treatments work? Will the myeloma improve? Will the cancer come back? A cancer diagnosis can bring on these questions and many more.
Members of MyMyelomaTeam often share their fears of the unknown. “I feel really scared on the inside,” one member wrote. “Not knowing how long the medications are going to keep working, and not knowing what the future holds. It sometimes seems overwhelming.”
Many multiple myeloma treatment options — such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy — are known to be difficult on the body. Some people with myeloma fear how these treatments will affect them. “I have smoldering myeloma, and now my labs aren’t looking good,” wrote one member. “My doctor says chemo will be needed soon. I’ve been down and scared about that.”
Some myeloma treatments themselves can also cause feelings of anxiety. Certain medications that people with myeloma might take, including steroids, can cause anxiety as a side effect.
Cancer treatment can be expensive. Some people worry about their finances or whether they will be able to afford the treatment they need. There are usually financing options available to help people with cancer pay for treatment, but finding the energy to track them down can be anxiety-inducing, too. As one member asked, “Is there anyone else on Revlimid? I can’t continue to afford this med; it’s ridiculous. Any ideas?”
Being diagnosed with cancer can mean a lot of waiting. Even after you receive a diagnosis, you will likely have to wait to find out if treatments work, to receive test results, to see how long remission will last, and more. All of this waiting can produce anxiety. As one member explained, “I’m trying to focus on work as a distraction during this waiting period, though lately, I feel like I’m always waiting for something.”
There are steps that you can take to manage anxiety with myeloma, both at home and with the help of your health care team.
Find someone, or a group of people, who you can talk to openly about your fears and anxieties. This person or group may be a caregiver, a nurse, a doctor, a social worker, your friends, or your family members.
One member shared how opening up to their friends and family offered a sense of relief: “Once I let it all out, it helped me tremendously. You truly need all the love and support from your family and friends. I have always been the caretaker, so it was so hard for me, but I’m glad I shared this with them.”
It is important to take good care of your physical health on a daily basis — especially after being diagnosed with myeloma. Do your best to eat healthy food, get exercise (or any form of physical activity) whenever you can, and drink plenty of water. These actions can help keep your body strong, stable, and ready to take on myeloma — and the feelings that come with it.
Getting spiritual support can mean different things to different people. If you are religious, talking to your spiritual leader or other members of your religious organization may help. Some people pray, while some meditate. Others work hard to change their attitudes about their diagnosis and life as a whole.
“When I’m scared, I pray more and ask Him (God) to replace that fear with peace,” one member wrote. Another shared, “I have read that our physical reaction to anxiety is the same as that for excitement. Hence, when feeling anxious, I try to turn it into a feeling of excitement for the possibilities of a positive outcome of stem cell therapy.”
There is no shame in taking medication to help with your anxiety surrounding myeloma. If your anxiety is overwhelming and doesn’t seem to improve with other approaches, talk to your oncologist or another health care professional about whether medications might be right for you.
Anxiety medication can be a key resource in dealing with myeloma-related anxiety. These medications can be particularly helpful alongside other approaches to managing anxiety. As one member shared, “I am taking anxiety medication to calm me. I have to work hard on lowering my stress. It is very difficult for me.”
Talking with friends and loved ones can be a huge source of support. However, no matter how good their intentions are, they may not understand the ins and outs of living with myeloma. Talking with others who have been diagnosed with myeloma can offer a different kind and quality of support. You can find a support group through your cancer care team, through a health care professional, or by searching for one online. Some support groups also include cancer survivors, so you can hear about their journeys as you go through your own.
A good therapist, particularly one who specializes in working with people diagnosed with cancer, can help improve your quality of life quite a bit. Meeting with a therapist gives you a place to share your anxieties about myeloma without fear of worrying or burdening your family or friends. Therapists can help you process your feelings and make a plan for dealing with anxiety.
MyMyelomaTeam is the social network for people with myeloma and their loved ones. More than 15,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with myeloma.
Do you experience anxiety with your myeloma? How do you cope? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a discussion on your Activities page.