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Self-Care and Myeloma Treatment

Posted on February 24, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN

Self-care is a crucial aspect of multiple myeloma treatment. While your health care team is taking care of your medical needs, you need to prioritize taking care of your physical and mental health. It’s a time to focus on yourself and do everything possible to feel well. Self-care includes setting boundaries, reaching out for support when needed, and giving yourself permission to have fun and even feel positive.

Members of MyMyelomaTeam often share self-care tips and ideas. One member said, “I treat myself to a therapeutic massage about two times a month. It’s great! Treat yourself!”

Here are some specific ways to make living with multiple myeloma a little more rewarding and enjoyable.

Connect With Nature (Indoors or Outdoors)

Go for walks or sit outdoors when you can. Outdoor physical activity is a great way to elevate your mood and boost your energy levels. This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to work out. Do not push yourself or engage in strenuous activities. Move as much as it feels good.

Simple joys such as bird-watching or taking a stroll through a garden can make the day special — and help reduce your stress. “Outside is beautiful. I’m starting my day off with organic juicing. I may even turn some music on,” shared a member of MyMyelomaTeam.

If the weather isn’t suitable for outdoor activities, create a container garden inside your home or lounge by the window with a cup of hot tea or coffee. Even gazing outside can be calming.

Harness the Healing Power of Music

Music has emotional and physical effects that you can use to your advantage when undergoing myeloma treatment. Several studies point to the benefits of music on the emotional and physical impact of cancer treatment — including lessening anxiety, fatigue, and pain.

Listening to music can help you unwind, think of happy memories, and remind you of loved ones. Singing along to your favorite songs can be therapeutic, too. You can download a karaoke app or look up the lyrics of songs by artists you like.

Playing an instrument is another fulfilling way to pass the time at home and to alleviate your myeloma symptoms and medication side effects, like muscle spasms. According to a member of MyMyelomaTeam, “I have problems with spasms a lot in my hands and feet where I have neuropathy. I try to give my hands exercise by writing, playing an instrument, or squeezing a ball. It seems to help.”

Whether you played instruments in the past or want to learn for the first time, there are plenty of ways to go about it. If you don’t own a musical instrument, many music stores offer rental options. You could take in-person (or virtual) lessons or follow along with online programs and tutorials to teach yourself the basics of any instrument. Consider starting with a keyboard to warm up your hands and get your fingers moving.

Seek Meaningful Human Interactions

Whether you’re socializing virtually (due to a compromised immune system or COVID-19 precautions) or meeting up in person, use this time to maintain — and even strengthen — some of your relationships. It’s OK if you don’t have the energy to go out and attend social gatherings. Instead, invite one or two people to stop by for a movie, meet up at the library, or head to a local museum. Or, if you’re not up for an in-person interaction or outing, schedule a virtual meetup.

MyMelomaTeam members say connecting works. “I made some phone calls to catch up with old friends. I’m so glad I did. It brought me joy!” said one. Another noted the importance of setting boundaries: “If I’m not up to doing things, I just say, ‘No, not today, but please feel free to ask me again.’ This keeps the door open between family and friends.”

Sometimes, friends and family members don’t know how to be supportive when a loved one goes through myeloma treatment. By taking the first step to connect, you’ll reassure them that you’re up for connecting with them and open to their help.

MyMyelomaTeam members have echoed this sentiment by saying:

  • “Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Your family wants to help you. It’s hard to accept the help at first, but it’s OK.”
  • “Yes, rely on your family if they are supportive. Luckily, mine is. My husband has been a saint, as well as my adult kids. It is hard to ask for help at first, but you have to put yourself first when you need help.”

Cherish Your Bedtime Routine

Sleep is essential after myeloma treatment, but it doesn’t always come easily. Members of MyMyelomaTeam have discussed their struggles in getting a good night’s sleep and how napping sometimes helps:

  • “I battle fatigue all the time and am forced to take short naps during the day. On the other hand, I cannot sleep through the night. I sleep for some time and then wake up, and am consciously awake for a while … I am going to talk with my support group about how they handle this.”
  • “I take naps throughout the day and sleep at night for three or four hours. Then, I may go to the computer and read, return to bed, and maybe sleep for a few more hours.”
  • “I try to stay on a schedule of activities every day. I take little cat naps in between activities. I also walk and do Silver Sneakers three times a week, which helps a lot.”

A consistent bedtime schedule — getting into bed and getting out of bed at the same time every day — can help regulate your circadian rhythm. Adding special touches, such as misting your sheets with essential oils or getting a nice pair of new pajamas, can make bedtime more enjoyable.

Practice Mindful Meditation and Spirituality

Mindful meditation has been shown to relieve anxiety, promote feelings of calm, and improve sleep, mood, and overall health. According to the American Cancer Society, meditation may also help lower blood pressure. There are many ways to practice meditation, including focusing on deep breathing or taking slow, mindful walks outdoors. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers free online videos that can walk you through guided meditation, tai chi, and more.

Spirituality is about connecting with something larger than yourself to discover a sense of purpose and deeper meaning. Defining what spirituality means to you can help you find support and comfort during multiple myeloma treatment.

Alongside discussions about showing gratitude, praying, and asking for strength from a higher power, some members post about how their spirituality is rooted in specific actions:

  • “I make sure I get to the dojo and train or even take notes if I’m unable to actively train. The positive energy I receive is essential for healing my mind, body, and spirit.”
  • “I work as a volunteer at a homeless shelter, which gives me faith and hope, and renews my spirit.”

Other MyMyelomaTeam members post about how they lean on their faith: “I have days here and there that I feel depressed, but it’s not very often, thankfully. It always helps to get into the Bible and read some encouraging psalms.”

Ask your oncologist to connect you with a social worker for more advice on how to incorporate self-care into your treatment plan.

Differentiate Between Self-Care and Self-Indulgence

The term “self-care” is sometimes confused with self-indulgence, which Merriam Webster defines as the “excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires, or whims.” As such, self-indulgence can include destructive behaviors, but self-care is about making healthy choices that promote well-being and nourish your body, mind, and spirit.

It’s OK to treat yourself occasionally, but drinking too much alcohol, smoking, binge eating, spending money you don’t have, or indulging yourself in any form to the point of excess should be avoided during multiple myeloma treatment. If you find yourself falling into unhealthy behaviors, consider meeting with a therapist or finding an in-person or virtual support group to help you develop better coping strategies. By switching the focus from self-indulgence to self-care, you’ll give your body its best chance for a good quality of life — and a successful cancer treatment outcome.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyMyelomaTeam, the social network for people with myeloma and their loved ones, more than 14,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with myeloma.

If you have myeloma, how do you pamper or care for yourself at home? What advice do you have for others and their caregiving loved ones? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMyelomaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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