6 Tips for Sticking to Multiple Myeloma Treatment
Multiple myeloma is a cancer affecting a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Plasma cells create the antibodies that help you fight off germs, but multiple myeloma causes cancer cells to crowd out your healthy plasma cells, leaving you susceptible to infections. Fortunately, enormous advances in myeloma treatment have emerged over the past decade that boost survival and quality of life. Even so, undergoing multiple myeloma treatment can be daunting, especially if you’re experiencing side effects from your cancer or your treatment, or the treatment seems to be lasting a long time. However, sticking with your therapy is paramount, so you can give yourself the best chance of a successful outcome. Check out some tips that can help you commit to your treatment and recover as best you can.
A big part of sticking with your multiple myeloma treatment is knowing what to expect. That’s why it’s important to absorb as much as you can about your particular diagnosis, including the staging of your cancer and the anticipated course of treatment. That includes the type of treatment you’ll be undergoing. Most experts recommend an approach that involves two or three drugs from this list of treatments:
Chemotherapy: a treatment that uses powerful chemicals to destroy rapidly growing cells in the body
Proteasome inhibitors: drugs that help your natural proteins kill myeloma cells
Corticosteroids: medications that resemble your natural hormones to lower inflammation
HDAC inhibitors: drugs that prevent cancer cells from proliferating
Immunomodulating agents: medicines that boost your immune system’s ability to fight cancer
Nuclear export inhibitors: drugs that prevent cancer from altering your cells
Learn all that you can about the medications that you’re receiving, so you’ll know what they’re supposed to do and how your body may react. Knowing these details may help you keep on putting one foot in front of the other, metaphorically speaking.
You’d probably advise a high school student to never skip class, right? Similarly, remind yourself to never skip an appointment with your oncology team. They’re monitoring you for changes in your condition, as well as your reaction to treatment. If you have to miss a visit for some reason, notify your team and reschedule as soon as you can.
The side effects from multiple myeloma itself and its treatment can vary from person to person, depending on the stage of your disease and the type of treatment you’re undergoing.
For example, if you’re receiving chemotherapy, you might experience nausea and vomiting, hair loss, appetite loss, mouth sores, and anemia. You may also be much more vulnerable to bruising or bleeding and infection from low blood count. If your doctor prescribes corticosteroids–either a single treatment or in combination with other therapies–your blood sugar might rise, and you may gain weight. You might also develop insomnia and experience mood changes. Some other types of treatments can cause nerve pain, which is also called peripheral neuropathy, as well as fatigue or gastrointestinal problems like constipation or diarrhea.
Some symptoms may be easier for you to tolerate than others. For example, you might find it relatively easy to adjust the thermostat to avoid the temperature extremes that can make nerve pain worse. A stool softener can help with constipation, while an antiemetic medication can reduce the nausea and vomiting you might be experiencing. Don’t give up if the first thing you try doesn’t work, though. It might take some trial and error. Talk to your doctor about possible strategies for addressing the side effects that are the hardest for you to manage.
Many people undergoing cancer treatment report struggling with feelings of anxiety, anger, and depression during treatment. They worry about whether their treatment will work. They worry about the long-term effects of treatment on their bodies and brains. They worry about the cost of cancer treatment and if they will be able to pay for everything they’ll need. They might even ask “Why me?”
It’s perfectly normal to have those feelings–and other complex feelings, too. Anticipate them, acknowledge them, and try to not let them take over. You can try a number of different coping strategies during your multiple myeloma treatment, such as:
Talk with a trusted friend
Seek out a therapist or counselor
Join a support group
Meditate, pray, or practice mindfulness
Meet with an oncology social worker
You might have other ways of relaxing or unwinding that help you manage your feelings, so give those a try, too.
There will almost certainly be times when you’ll need someone else to help you out with something related to your cancer treatment. It’s okay to ask for help–in fact, your healthcare team may recommend it. Cultivate a support network of people you can count on. When you need someone to accompany you to a doctor’s visit, bring you a meal, or lend a listening ear, your support network can step in to help. This extra support may help you stick with your multiple myeloma treatment better than if you tried to go it alone. Plus, when you’re feeling down, they might be able to cheer you up, or at least remind you that you’re not alone.
At some point, you’ll conclude your current treatment for your multiple myeloma. And then what? Actually, your care doesn’t end there. You should continue to receive follow-up care. It’s important to know what’s likely to come next, such as the schedule of follow-up appointments, checks for recurrence, tests you might need to undergo, and treatment for any lingering side effects. Some people may need to undergo additional treatment, too, so you can discuss that with your healthcare team. Just be prepared for the follow-up care to occur, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and express your concerns.