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Creating a Positive Outlook With Leukemia

Posted on May 20, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN

Whether you’re waiting on nerve-wracking test results or managing the challenging side effects of cancer treatment, staying positive isn't always easy when you have leukemia. Although you never want to discount your emotions (even the unpleasant ones), there are effective ways to reset your mindset and shift in a more positive direction.

Finding Strategies To Build Resilience

Resilience isn’t about being able to avoid hardships — it’s about how you respond and cope with them when they arise. Creating a foundation of emotional strength will help you bounce back faster during difficult times. With leukemia treatment, physical and emotional ups and downs can be unavoidable. Preparing yourself with resilience-building exercises can help you prevail in the face of adversity.

Reframe Negative Thoughts

It’s OK to feel sad or angry sometimes. However, if negative thoughts are your default mentality, you may benefit from working to change your internal monologue. A process called cognitive restructuring can help you transform negative thoughts into more realistic ones.

Another strategy, called benefit finding, challenges you to look for the silver lining in any situation. Believe it or not, it is possible to discover ways that leukemia has been a positive experience — including building awareness of things in your life that you’re grateful for.

The words you say to yourself matter, but developing a positive attitude can take some practice. As a member of MyLeukemiaTeam said, “Depression requires a constant attitude adjustment mentality. A depression is a shallow hole. When we find ourselves in a hole, we have to stop digging. In a depression, we have to fill it in as quickly as possible with something positive before it becomes a crater.”

Address Stress Proactively

Managing stress is crucial, especially when health concerns come into play. For people with leukemia, high stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and poor health outcomes. Research shows that stress raises inflammatory biomarkers that may increase disease progression or impede recovery by placing greater demands on the immune system.

Rather than treating stress as an afterthought, view it as a symptom that requires attention. Doing so can help you prioritize stress management as part of your leukemia treatment plan. Members of MyLeukemiaTeam share strategies for stress management. One member suggested meditation apps: “Insight Timer is a free app with various meditations. When you can’t get out of your own head, these meditations are a lifesaver.”

Other stress management ideas you can try include:

  • Accepting help from friends, family members, and other potential caregivers who volunteer to assist with babysitting, errands, or housework
  • Asking a friend to update others about your treatment so you don’t have to respond to multiple messages, or creating an email chain or blog to announce any updates
  • Enjoying nutritious foods by trying new recipes or ordering from a favorite restaurant
  • Listening to upbeat or soothing music
  • Reading books you enjoy or listening to audio versions
  • Recharging outdoors through exercise or meditation
  • Trying an adult coloring book, puzzles, or crafts
  • Sticking to a sleep schedule to get the rest you need
  • Talking to your oncologist about your stress levels
  • Watching uplifting or funny movies and shows

Connecting to a Greater Mission

Worrying about leukemia can occupy a large part of your daily thoughts — but only if you allow it. Try filling your life with things to focus on outside of yourself, and you might be pleasantly surprised to find that your happiness level increases.

Volunteering your time, knowledge, or skills to help others adds meaning and positivity to your daily life and can provide a welcome distraction from your cancer diagnosis. If you have religious or spiritual beliefs, immersing yourself in the teachings through books, groups, or services can help you feel more positive, provide comfort, and promote social connections.

Setting goals for yourself creates a sense of purpose and motivation. Just because you have leukemia doesn't mean your aspirations should be put on the back burner. Remember the things that were important to you before your diagnosis and find ways to keep them as a part of your life.

Perhaps you wanted to play an instrument, learn a new language, develop woodworking skills, or go back to school. Even if you don't have the energy or resources to devote as much time to your goals, there are still ways to reach milestones and make progress.

Recognizing When You Can’t Do it Alone

Even the most resilient and positive people need support. Dealing with a leukemia diagnosis and undergoing treatment is enough to test the strongest among us. When you feel like you’re struggling to stay afloat, it’s time to get some outside help.

Social support from online communities, support groups, or psychotherapists can provide an added layer of resources and strength to your fight against leukemia. Joining a group that’s led by a social worker, therapist, or cancer survivor can help provide you with the skills needed to withstand difficult times. Learn to recognize when help is needed and take steps to seek it out as part of your comprehensive health care plan for leukemia.

Support Pets and Service Animals

Pets can offer companionship and comfort, boosting your mental and emotional well-being. Service animals may assist with specific tasks, while emotional support animals are trained to help with mental health issues, like anxiety.

Pets can also help boost your physical activity level. Walking a dog or cleaning and caring for any pet is a good excuse to keep moving and fight off the fatigue, aches, and pains associated with leukemia.

Pets come with responsibility, so it’s important to weigh your decision to adopt one carefully. Your health care team and a veterinarian can also help you determine any health risks associated with your pet. With a little extra planning in place, a pet can help you maintain a positive outlook and quality of life.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLeukemiaTeam is the social network for people with leukemia and their loved ones. On MyLeukemiaTeam, more than 8,300 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with leukemia.

Are you living with leukemia? What keeps your spirits up? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyLeukemiaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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