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Living well with and beyond blood cancer

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Donal Buggy

Head of Services, Irish Cancer Society

For people living with blood cancer, their treatment journey can take a number of paths. A diagnosis of blood cancer can bring fear and anxiety. But for many there is hope.

It is little known that, together, blood cancers represent almost one in ten cancer cases, with more than 2,000 people across Ireland diagnosed every year. Blood cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death in Ireland but, thankfully, new treatments are improving survival rates and giving fresh hope to patients.

Treatment options vary according to the aggressiveness of the cancer

Acute, aggressive forms of blood cancer require immediate treatment, whereas slow-growing blood cancers can often be managed as a chronic condition.

In cases where the cancer is not aggressive, patients can opt to be monitored by their doctor through ‘active surveillance’ – where regular check-ups and blood tests are carried out in lieu of immediate treatment. Whether treatment is required at a later stage depends on progression of the disease.

For those who’ve had treatment, people with blood cancer may enter a period of remission where the cancer cells are completely or partially gone and they are monitored closely to ensure the cancer does not come back.

Carers need support in giving mental health, dietary and exercise advice

9/10 people with blood cancer felt that the care they received from a carer was of huge or high importance to them. But almost 2/3 carers themselves received no support on how to carry out their role.

They identified areas of training and support that would have helped them better prepare for their role including: mental health or mindfulness training (46%); information on diet and exercise (28%) and how to get the most out of an appointment (33%) with a healthcare professional.

Cancer survivorship and life after cancer

In August, we helped launch ‘Living With and Beyond Cancer in Ireland’; this report sets out the model of care needed for cancer survivors in Ireland. There is often an expectation people will return to ‘normal life’ after their treatment has stopped, the reality is often quite different. While many people return to good health, others experience ongoing issues for years afterwards.

Short- and long-term effects of cancer treatment can affect every aspect of daily life. Physical issues include incontinence, weight changes, sleep disturbance and fatigue. Emotional and psychological effects include shock, distress and fear of recurrence, low self-esteem and depression. Social and intimacy issues include lack of support, fear of burdening family and friends, loss of identity and altered relationships. And financial issues include increased stress due to financial difficulties, lack of (or reduced) household income, and an increase in costs to help manage side effects of treatment.

The Irish Cancer Society currently provide assistance through a Freephone Nurseline, Daffodil Centres, counselling service, Living Life group and educational events.

For questions or concerns about any aspect of cancer, call the Irish Cancer Society’s Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700 (lines are open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm), or drop into one of our 13 Daffodil Centres in hospitals nationwide.

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