Tips for Caregivers: How to Support a Loved One with Leukemia

Caregiving for someone with blood cancer isn’t easy, but keeping these goals in mind may help.

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Caregiving for someone with leukemia—a type of blood cancer affecting immature blood cells in the bone marrow—can be challenging. It can be hard to watch your loved one fight a disease, undergo intense treatments, and ride an emotional rollercoaster each day. In most cases, caregiving might be unlike anything you’ve done before.

Even if it may not seem like it, make no mistake: You are helping. It can be easy to get down on yourself and feel like you’re not doing enough, but what you’re doing *is* making a difference.

“From the standpoint of the oncologist treating an individual who has been diagnosed with a disease such as leukemia, one of the important determinants of how an individual does is their support system,” says Phillip D. Reid, MD, hematologist and oncologist at Regional Cancer Care Associates in New Jersey.

What Caregivers Can Expect

Keeping your goals in mind can help you feel less overwhelmed. Goals for caregiving for someone with leukemia include nurturing their physical and emotional well being during treatment, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This can range from providing emotional support to more hands-on care, like helping them get dressed, move around the house, or cook and eat healthfully.

Your role will likely vary depending on the type of leukemia, the severity of symptoms, and the type of treatment. Common symptoms of leukemia you can expect include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Loss of appetite and unintended weight loss
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sense of fullness after small meals
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Higher risk of illnesses or infections.

Learn more symptoms of leukemia here.

During treatment for leukemia, your loved one may also experience unpleasant side effects in addition to the symptoms of the cancer. Side effects of leukemia treatments include nausea, pain, problems with mobility, numbness of the feet and hands (i.e. peripheral neuropathy), and weakness.

Caregiving Tips During Leukemia Treatment

Some ways your loved one may need help might not be intuitive or obvious. If you’re unsure how to help, here are ways your loved one may need assistance.

  • Housework can help reduce stress for your loved one, who may be inhibited due to fatigue or pain. This may include doing laundry, helping with dressing and grooming, watering plants, paying bills and monitoring finances, and caring for pets.

  • Treatment assistance ensures your loved one is getting the best treatment possible and sticking to it. This may include driving to appointments (or arranging for other transportation), monitoring medication schedule, ensuring adherence to treatment plan, attending appointments, taking notes, asking questions, communicating with healthcare team, and monitoring and reporting side effects.

  • Nutrition support can help your loved one maintain weight and avoid malnutrition, which have been shown to improve treatment outcomes, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This may include grocery shopping, cooking and preparing healthy meals, encouraging healthy choices, managing nausea and other side effects to improve appetite, monitoring for signs of malnutrition, and following strict food safety guidelines (due to your loved one’s increased risk of infection). Here are more tips for proper nutrition during blood cancer treatment.

  • Self-care is essential for helping you stay physically and emotionally healthy, so you can take better care of your loved one. This may include exercising regularly, allowing yourself breaks, eating well, sticking with your personal hobbies, finding a support system or group, keeping up with your own medical needs, avoiding drugs or alcohol, getting enough sleep each night, meditating or using other relaxation techniques, and asking for and accepting help from others.

“In general, patients who are less stressed during the course of their illness … do better and have better long-term outcomes,” says Dr. Reid.