How to Help Leukemia Patients
Whether you’re helping a friend, a loved one, or someone you don’t know, helping leukemia patients can have a tremendous impact on the patients’ lives. Leukemia is a broad category which contains many types of cancer that affect a person’s white blood cells. Most types of leukemia are difficult to treat, and both the disease and treatment can have harrowing effects on the body. To help patients who have leukemia, you can provide moral support by listening to them when they discuss the illness. You can also provide practical support by helping the patient find financial aid, taking them to appointments, and working through the side-effects of various treatments.
Providing Emotional Support
Learn about the disease and treatment options.Of course you’ll never fully be able to understand what living with leukemia is like. But, if you understand the disease and how treatment works, you’ll be able to help the leukemia patient consider their treatment options, and give them advice if they ask for it. Get to know the patient’s doctor and other medical staff, and familiarize yourself with the effects of leukemia and treatment drugs.
- You can also contact organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or the American Cancer Societyfor information about the disease. Access the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website at: .
- This is especially important if the leukemia patient is a close friend or family member. They’ll feel encouraged if you take an active interest in their treatment.
Ask if the patient has specific ways they’d like you to help them.When helping patients, open communication is key. The patient may already have a few things in mind that you could to do help them out. Whatever the patient asks for, be understanding and willing to offer your assistance.
- Say something like, “I’d like to help out, but I’m not sure what I can do. Do you have any specific tasks in mind that I can help out with?”
- If a patients asks you, for example, to help them prepare a will, say something like, “Sure, I’d be happy to look into how writing a will works.”
- Try not to be limited in your support. Common patient requests can include things like packing for the hospital, paying bills on time, feeding and walking pets, running to the grocery store or pharmacy, and doing laundry. Taking care of these things might not always seem like much, but they can help make a big difference in a patient's peace of mind.
Listen to the patients when they discuss their illness.As with any cancer, leukemia is difficult, taxing, expensive, and unpleasant. Consequently, one of the ways in which you can provide support is simply by listening to the patients. Ask them how they’re doing, and listen compassionately to their responses.Avoid offering cliché responses like “things will get better, you’ll see,” or “just keep your chin up.”
- This is especially important if the leukemia patient is a friend or family member. The patient may come to depend on you as an integral part of their emotional support network.
- Especially during trying times, sometimes people just need to vent or talk about their experiences. You don't need to offer advice or try to fix things. Just be an attentive and compassionate listener.
Helping Patients through Their Treatment
Help the patient process the side effects of chemotherapy.Chemo is often used to treat leukemia. The side effects of the treatment include a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. Gently remind the chemo patient to sip water or eat ice chips regularly throughout the day, even if they may not feel thirsty. Also urge them to eat regularly, even if it’s just a small, healthy snack like carrot sticks.
- If the patient suffers from diarrhea, suggest that they take an anti-diarrheal medication.
- If a patient has no appetite, a protein shake might be a good meal substitute.
- If a patient is suffering from nausea, their doctor may provide them with a prescription to help manage the symptom. Even so, vomiting may still occur as not all medications are effective for all patients.
Urge the patient to stay physically active.Cancer patients do need plenty of rest and downtime, especially if they’re receiving chemotherapy. Many leukemia patients may be unable to participate in rigorous exercises like running, swimming, or lifting weights. However, you can still urge the patient to talk with their doctor about ways in which they can engage in physical activity. Physical activity can boost the leukemia patient’s physical and mental health, prevent muscle weakness, and help lift their mood.
- For example, a doctor may recommend that patients stay active by doing things like walking the dog for 15 minutes or taking a walk to the mailbox every afternoon.
- You can also help the patient create a daily routine that involves physical activity. A daily routine can also include activities like showering every day or doing 10 minutes of yoga.
Help the patient find a support group.Support groups consist of a number of individuals with the same illness, who can discuss the difficulties of treatment, coping strategies, and ways to bolster one another emotionally. Many kinds of leukemia exist, and each type often has its own support group.Ask the patient which type of leukemia they have, and help them find a support group specific to that type of leukemia.
- To find a support group, search online for “leukemia support group in [your city].” CancerCare also maintains a list of leukemia support groups online at .
- Or, suggest that the patient ask their doctor or other hospital staff if they know of any leukemia support groups in the area.
Providing Practical Support
Accompany a patient to their appointments.If the patient is nervous or apprehensive about going to their first few appointments following their leukemia diagnosis, offer to go with them. You can provide moral support, and help them remember any questions or concerns that they wanted to ask their doctor.
- If the patient is undergoing chemotherapy to treat their blood cancer or if they are generally anxious about their treatment, their memory and other mental functions can be impaired.
- It may help to prepare a list prior to the appointment if the patient has multiple questions. That way, neither of you forget something important.
- You can also help them by bringing a notepad and pen to the appointment, and jotting down the doctor’s instructions regarding medication dosage, treatment strategies, and other pertinent medical information.
Help the patient find financial resources.Leukemia can be expensive to treat, and the treatment process can take years. This financial strain can exhaust the patient’s financial resources, especially if they don’t have medical insurance. Respectfully ask the patient if they’d like help with finding financial assistance. If they want help, use online channels to find financial resources, and encourage the patient to ask their doctor about other financial resources.Resources include:
- The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Their patient financial aid program may provide limited assistance to help defray some treatment costs for patients that have been diagnosed with blood cancers and can demonstrate financial need. See more at .
- The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition. See more at .
- CancerCare. See more at .
- Local organizations like churches, mosques, synagogues, or lodges.
- Service organizations like Jewish Social Services, Catholic Care, or the Salvation Army.
Take care of a patient’s home when they’re undergoing treatment.If you have a personal relationship with the leukemia patient, ask if you can help care for their house or apartment during their stints in the hospital.Before the patient goes in for treatment (whether for a day, a weekend, or a week), ask what you can do to help out. Tasks may include:
- Feeding and walking pets.
- Watering plants.
- Light cleaning, like dusting or vacuuming.
Prepare meals in advance for the patient.If the patient is not confined to a hospital room but lives in their own house, you can help them by bringing by prepared meals. Already-made meals will make the patient’s daily routine easier. You don’t need to prepare every meal for the patient. Coordinate with the patient. For example, you could make 2-3 dinners a week, or deliver breakfast every Saturday and Sunday morning. Also, urge the patient to talk to their doctor or to a nutritionist regarding what types of foods they should be eating.
- Cancer patients typically need a high-calorie diet to avoid losing weight. Try to include iron-rich meats, like fish and pork. Also include foods high in vitamins C and E, like citrus fruits, cantaloupe, and banana.
- To ensure that the meals will be appreciated, avoid preparing any overly spicy foods.
- Ask the patient about any food allergies they may have, as well as what foods they like to eat. This can help you customize meals to make them more appetizing for the patient.
Offer to help with childcare.If the leukemia patient has children, the patient may be having a difficult time keeping up with the kids or finding a place for the children to stay while the patient is at the hospital. If you’re willing to supervise the kids for a period of time, let the patient know. Depending on the age of the children, you could supervise them at your home, or take them to a local park or movie theater.
- If you don’t know the patient well, and aren’t comfortable watching their children at your own home, you could offer to find a local, affordable child-care center. Be sure to check with the hospital as some offer their own daycare programs for patients.
Ask if you can run errands for the patient.Leukemia patients can be house- or bed-bound, and often find it difficult to run ordinary errands. You could tell the patient something like, “If you’re having a little trouble getting around, just let me know and I can run some errands around town for you.” For example, they may want you to pick up their weekly groceries at the supermarket, or to pick up their packages from the post office.
- Let the patient know if there are times when you’re unable to run errands. For example, if you attend an evening class every Monday at 8, communicate to the patient that you’ll be busy then.
Remember to take care of yourself while you’re helping patients.Caring for leukemia patients—especially if the patient is a friend or family member—can be physically tiring and emotionally taxing. Don’t feel like you need to run yourself ragged in order to be a good caretaker. Take time to preserve your own mental health and wellbeing. It will also help to find someone to talk to about the difficulties and stresses of helping leukemia patients.Other self-care activities include:
- Deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
- Journaling your thoughts and emotions as a caretaker.
- Be honest with them early on about how much care you can provide. Sometimes you’ll need to say “no.” For example, if a patient asks you to move into their home to help care for them, you could say, “I’m sorry, but I don't think I can help in that area. I'm here for you and willing to help in other ways, though.”
- If the leukemia patient is undergoing chemotherapy, they will often feel nauseous and not want to eat. Encourage them to eat daily, though, and suggest that they have 5 or 6 small meals instead of 2 or 3 large ones.
- If you’d like to help leukemia patients in a broader sense, you could donate money to a leukemia research and care organization, such as the Leukemia Research Foundation.
Video: Cancer Healer Center: Blood Cancer (Leukemia)
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