While the prospect of managing multiple myeloma can be truly daunting, there are things that patients can do to look after themselves as they live with the disease. Patients and caregivers should know that thanks to recent medical advances and innovative, new treatments, a growing number of patients are living 10 years or more after diagnosis.
Although multiple myeloma is currently incurable, patients can find ways to go on living their lives with the condition. Here are five things that patients can do as they live with the disease.
1) Managing diet: While there is no evidence that shows a change in diet will change your prognosis, making some diet choices can help with your overall health and wellness. Consult with a dietitian to discuss healthy diets for the various stages of treatment. Dietitians can help you choose healthy foods that can work around the nausea, vomiting, or dry or sore mouth that can result from the disease, and some treatments.
2) Exercising regularly: Keeping up with exercise can be a valuable way to positively impact your physical and mental wellness. Because the disease can result in thinning and damaged bones, avoid contact sports and other activities that put stress on your bones. Walking, swimming, cycling, yoga and tai chi are examples of lower-impact exercises. When working out, warm up and cool down before and after each session to avoid muscle strain. Take it slow to start, and listen to your body.
3) Avoiding infections: Patients with multiple myeloma and those taking treatments like chemotherapy can have weakened immune systems. It’s important to try and reduce your exposure to infections, bacteria and viruses in order to protect your body, which is more susceptible than you may be used to.
Wash your hands frequently. Try to avoid crowded, enclosed spaces. And stay away from people who are sick. Ask your well-meaning friends and family to postpone their visits if they, or anyone in their households, have been unwell, so that they don’t pass infection on to you.
4) Finding support: As a patient with multiple myeloma, know that you’re not alone. Find the people in your life who can offer you much-needed support as you progress through your journey with the disease – whether emotional support, or help with cooking, household chores and driving you places when you’re feeling unwell. As well, patient support groups can offer information and resources that many people find helpful. You can often find them through your hospital or cancer center, or by searching Myeloma Canada online.
Your healthcare team is also there for you. Your family doctor, and the other physicians, nurses, and cancer specialists are available to support you, as well as other health care professionals like pharmacists, dentists, and dieticians. Many patients also benefit from speaking with a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, counsellor or spiritual advisor.
5) Coping with pain: Bone pain, which often occurs in the middle or lower back, the hips, and the rib cage, is often a symptom of multiple myeloma. The pain is a result of the bone tissue being broken down more rapidly than it is built back up. Many patients also experience pain from some of the treatments that are used to manage the disease.
To help cope with pain, keep up with your prescribed pain medications, on schedule, and as directed by your physician. Many people also find that relaxation techniques, such as meditation, visualization and mindfulness can be helpful, not only to relieve pain, but also to reduce anxiety and stress. Gentle massage from an experienced, registered massage therapist can also offer some relief. And it can be helpful to distract yourself – like watching a favourite film, or doing an activity that you enjoy. Applying heat or cold to sore areas, and using pillows or comfort aids that make sitting or lying down more comfortable can also help.
With a variety of new available treatments, many myeloma patients are living longer. Patients should speak to their doctors about what treatments might be right for them, and whether there are innovations and breakthroughs that may help them manage the disease over time.