Emotional Challenges

It's important to pay attention to your emotional well-being as you prepare for transplant. 

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A stem cell transplant is an emotionally challenging experience for the patient and family alike. It is normal to feel anxious, scared or depressed. It's healthy to seek help to cope with your feelings.

Put Things Into Perspective

The prospect of a transplant can be overwhelming. Your transplant team will present you with a huge amount of new information, new medical terms and new issues to consider. The changes a transplant will create in your daily life may, at first, seem impossible to manage. The list of possible complications that can arise after transplant may frighten or discourage you.

Take a moment to put things into perspective. Ask your transplant team to explain things to you in language you can understand.

Ask your medical team to put the potential complications into perspective for you.

  • Which complications will definitely occur?
  • Which complications happen occasionally or rarely?
  • What will be done to manage complications when they arise?
  • Are the complications temporary or permanent?

Don't be embarrassed to ask a question more than once until you get an answer you understand.

Once you have made the decision to have a transplant, it's best to focus your energy on things over which you have control, rather than dwell on those things you can't control. Preparing your family for transplant, following doctors' recommendations, and finding ways to relieve stress are ways to focus your energies on useful activities that can help with your recovery.

Set Realistic Goals

Ask your transplant team for a realistic estimate of how long your recovery will take, when you can return to work or school and when you can resume other activities. If your recovery takes longer, don't be discouraged. A slower recovery period does not mean that you are less likely to be cured.

Avoid comparing yourself to others or setting unrealistic goals. Measure your progress a day or even an hour at a time, and be prepared for days when things won't go as well as planned. This is normal and does not mean your transplant did not work.

Be easy on yourself:

  • Don't worry if you are feeling sad or discouraged. These feelings are normal.
  • You are going through a very difficult medical procedure. Don't be surprised if the coping skills you normally use to navigate daily life are not sufficient to help you during transplant.
  • Asking for help is a sign of wisdom, not a sign of weakness.

Loss of Control

As you prepare for transplant, you may feel a loss of control. A disease has taken control of your body. You're dependent on a medical team you barely know to save your life. The treatment will leave you weak and dependent on others for several weeks.

It is common for patients to feel angry or depressed about this lack of control. Sometimes patients express their frustration by lashing out at loved ones or the medical team.

Talking with a counselor about your feelings can help you move forward and feel comfortable accepting help from others.

Seek Professional Help

It is very common for patients and family members to need the help of a mental health professional to manage the stress of a transplant.

A mental health provider can offer excellent ideas to help you cope with the transplant experience. Ask if there is social worker or psychologist at your transplant center with whom you can talk or consult BMT InfoNet's Directory of Mental Health Providers.

If you're feeling anxious, depressed or having difficulty sleeping, your doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication to help you deal with the stress. Short-term use of these medications is common among transplant patients and does not lead to long-term dependency in most patients.

Talk With Others Who Have Been in Your Shoes

You may find it helpful to talk with someone who has been through a transplant to get some insight on what to expect. BMT InfoNet's Caring Connections Program can put you in touch with another person who has been through a transplant, or a person who has been the caregiver or donor for a transplant patient. Your transplant social worker may also be able to connect you with someone who has been through transplant.

One Day at a Time

Although it sounds trite, taking things a day at a time or even an hour at a time helps. Focusing on the things over which you have some control, rather than allowing yourself to worry about all the details that are beyond your control, is a good strategy for managing the stress of a transplant. Above all, don’t be shy about asking for help in dealing with your emotions when you need it.

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Next Page: Preparing Family and Friends

Updated August 2022