Life after treatment for AML
For most people, the cancer experience doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Life after acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) treatment can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends and worry that every ache and pain means the leukaemia is coming back.
Some people say they feel pressure to return to “normal life”. It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and to establish a new daily routine at your own pace. Your family and friends may also need time to adjust.
Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had leukaemia and provide you with information about the emotional and practical aspects of living well after treatment.
For more on this, see Living well after cancer.
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After your treatment, you will have regular appointments to monitor your health, manage any long-term side effects and check that the leukaemia hasn’t come back or spread. During these check-ups, you will usually have a physical examination and may have blood tests, x-rays or scans. You will also be able to discuss how you’re feeling and mention any concerns you may have.
When a follow-up appointment or test is approaching, many people find that they think more about the cancer and may feel anxious. Talk to your treatment team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 if you are finding it hard to manage this anxiety.
Check-ups will become less frequent if you have no further problems. Between follow-up appointments, let your doctor know immediately of any symptoms or health problems.
Dealing with feelings of sadness
If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had leukaemia.
Talk to your GP, because counselling or medication – even for a short time – may help. Some people can get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Cancer Council may also run a counselling program in your area.
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Looking after yourself
Leukaemia can cause physical and emotional strain, so it’s important to look after your wellbeing. Cancer Council has free booklets and programs to help you during and after treatment.
Call 13 11 20 to find out more, or see Managing cancer side effects, Exercise after a cancer diagnosis, Complementary therapies, Emotions and cancer, Nutrition and cancer, Sexuality, intimacy and cancer, Fertility and cancer, and Living well after cancer.
Alternative therapies are therapies used instead of conventional medical treatments. These are unlikely to be scientifically tested, may prevent successful treatment of the cancer and can be harmful. Cancer Council does not recommend the use of alternative therapies as a leukaemia treatment.
If AML returns
For some people, leukaemia does come back after treatment, which is known as a relapse or recurrence. It may be found in the bone marrow. Leukaemia cells may also be found in the testicles. Having regular check-ups means tests may find a relapse before there are symptoms. Finding a relapse early offers the best chance for successful treatment.
If you have a relapse, further treatment may be able to control the leukaemia and lead to a second remission. You may be offered different chemotherapy drugs, targeted therapy drugs, or a stem cell transplant. It may also be possible to join a clinical trial.
Dr Jonathan Sillar, Haematologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital; Dr Scott Dunkley, Haematologist, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse; Sharon Frazer, Consumer; Dr Robin Gasiorowski, Staff Specialist, Haematology, Concord Hospital; Prof Angela Hong, Radiation Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and Clinical Professor, The University of Sydney; Yvonne King, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Heather Mackay, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Haematology, Westmead Hospital; Katelin Mayer, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Outreach Team, Nelune Comprehensive Cancer Centre.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.