Although bone marrow transplantation offers hope for many patients, going through the BMT process is a difficult experience for patients and their families. Treatment is physically and emotionally challenging.

Dealing with changes and loss of control

Facing the reality of a serious illness, fearing what is involved in bone marrow transplantation, dealing with complex and unfamiliar medical information, and facing separation from family and friends can be overwhelming and difficult to endure. You and your family might experience anxiety regarding the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

You will experience changes and might not be as independent as you want to be. People will experience some changes and role losses that are temporary, and some longer-term changes in lifestyle might occur. While going through transplantation, common role changes might involve employment or work, parenting and family responsibilities, and physical activity. People who are used to being independent and like to feel in control might find such changes very frustrating and might find it difficult to cope.

A person’s ability to cope is strongly influenced by his or her perceptions of a situation. If you believe challenges facing you are insurmountable, you might feel helpless or hopeless. Obtaining more information, asking about how other people have coped, and turning to others for support are helpful coping strategies and might change the way you view your situation.

Give yourself permission to have bad days. You are only human and will have times when you feel discouraged or are in a bad mood. Just guard yourself against getting stuck in negative thinking and feelings.

Helpful coping strategies

Review what has been helpful and not helpful to you in the past when dealing with stressful or difficult situations. Focus on building on your strengths, and stay open to new ideas and strategies. Here are some positive coping strategies:

  • Utilize your support network of friends and family: having loved ones or friends visit or call you can be very comforting. Discuss your feelings about what is happening with your friends and family. Allow family and friends to help you sort through the information you receive.
  • Talk with other patients and families about bone marrow transplantation: talk with your social worker. Make use of resources and support services —these include resources at Cleveland Clinic and in the community.
  • Actively participate in your treatment plan: you are a valuable and key person in your treatment plan. Stay informed and communicate your questions and ideas to the medical team. Do not be afraid to ask your doctor, nurse, or other health care provider to repeat any instructions or medical terms you don’t understand. Your Bone Marrow Transplant Team is always available to answer your questions and address your concerns.
  • Focus on things you can influence: let go of things you can't change or control, and focus on doing things that will help your situation.
  • Focus on what needs to be done here and now: it is easy to get overwhelmed if you think about everything you might eventually have to deal with. Focus on what you are currently dealing with and can work on now.
  • Accept your reactions and your natural pace: accept how you feel about events, and give yourself time to adjust and process thoughts and feelings about what is happening.
  • Give yourself things to look forward to: your energy has been focused on treatment, but there are still things you can enjoy, and you need to plan simple pleasures to which you can look forward.
  • Focus on what you have: try to focus on what you still have and have gained rather than what you have lost or haven't accomplished yet.
  • Accept the unexpected: accept that there are events you cannot control. Few things will happen exactly as expected. Plan for delays, setbacks, and surprises.
  • Reduce stress: when you are facing BMT, stress can build up and affect how you feel about life. Prolonged stress can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness and, at times, depression.

Here are some tips for reducing stress:

  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. "Assert" your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, combative, or passive.
  • Learn to relax.
  • Exercise as often as you can.
  • Eat well-balanced meals.
  • Rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.

Learn to Relax

There are a number of exercises you can do to relax. These exercises include breathing, muscle and mind relaxation, relaxation to music, and biofeedback. A few for you to try are listed below. First, be sure you have a quiet, distraction-free location. Try to find a comfortable body position. Sit or recline on a chair or sofa. Also, have a good state of mind. Try to block out worries and troubling thoughts.

Two-minute relaxation

Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Loosen up these areas, letting go of as much tension as you can. Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. (If any movement causes pain, stop immediately.) Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax. Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. You should feel relaxed.

Mind Relaxation

Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, silently say to yourself the word "one," a short word such as "peaceful," or a short phrase such as "I feel quiet." Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Let your breathing become slow and steady.

Deep breathing relaxation

Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot and fill your stomach with air. Let the air fill you from the stomach up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.