Living With Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Doctors can treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML), but both this cancer and its treatments can take a toll. You might feel tired, weak, and concerned about what the future holds.

You'll feel better if you take good care of yourself. Eat right, stay active, and get support if you need it. Here are some tips to help you feel your best.

Eat Healthy

Nutritious foods can make you feel stronger and healthier and speed your recovery. The ideal diet for AML contains all of these nutrients:

Protein to help your body heal and strengthen your immune system. Get it from sources like fish, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy, and lean red meat.

Carbohydrates for energy. Complex carbohydrates -- such as whole grains, vegetables, and beans -- are the healthiest sources.

“Good” fats to help you use energy and to carry certain vitamins around your body. Good sources include vegetable oil (olive, canola, safflower, sunflower) and avocadoes.

Try to limit or avoid unhealthy foods like sweets, high-fat meats, and salty snacks.

Also, drink plenty of fluids so you don't get dehydrated, especially if you're vomiting or you have diarrhea. Ask your doctor if you should avoid alcohol, which can interfere with some chemotherapy drugs.

Eating Problems From Side Effects

Even if you eat a well-rounded diet, it can be harder to get the nutrients you need because of treatment side effects like these:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Changes in tastes
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhea or constipation

If you can't eat large amounts of food at once, have a few small meals during the day instead of three big ones.

If you need to gain weight, eat foods that are rich in protein, calories, and nutrients, like peanut butter, cheese, and trail mix. And if it hurts to eat, drink high-protein, high-calorie shakes or smoothies.

Some people with AML have low levels of white blood cells called neutrophils. Without neutrophils, your body can't protect you from the bacteria in certain foods. Your doctor might recommend that you make these changes to your diet:

  • Cook fruits and vegetables before you eat them. You can still eat canned fruit and fruit juice.
  • Cook meat, fish, and eggs all the way through.
  • Avoid deli meats.
  • Eat only pasteurized cheese, yogurt, and milk. Avoid soft cheeses like Gorgonzola, bleu, Stilton, and Roquefort.

If you're not sure what to eat, ask your cancer doctor to recommend a dietitian. He or she can tailor a healthy diet to meet your needs.

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Stay Active

Exercise might be the furthest thing from your mind if you feel weak and weary. But staying as active as possible will give you more energy and fight fatigue.

Ask your doctor how to exercise safely with AML. A physical therapist can help you design a fitness program that matches your strength and energy levels.

Start slowly. At first, you might only be able to walk for a few minutes at a time. Gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts once you feel ready. Your goal is to do 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on most days of the week.

Care for Your Mental Health

Living with cancer can bring up a lot of emotions. Everyone is different, but you might have times when you feel scared, stressed, angry, anxious, or a combination of these feelings.

Remember that you don't have to go through this process alone. Lean on the people around you -- your friends, family members, co-workers, or members of your community. Or join a support group of people with AML.

Try these techniques to help manage stress:

  • Take time every day to do something you enjoy or that relaxes you. Read a book, take a warm bath, plant flowers in your garden, or watch a funny movie.
  • Socialize. Go out for dinner or to a movie with friends.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Do something creative to express your emotions. Paint or write in a journal.
  • Try a relaxation technique such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.

If your cancer and its treatment feel overwhelming, get help. Ask your doctor to recommend a therapist or counselor who can talk you through the issues you're having.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 29, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "Appetite Changes," "How Might Treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia Affect Your Emotional Health?" "Lifestyle Changes After Treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia," "Nutrition for the Person with Cancer During Treatment."

American Society for Clinical Oncology: "Managing Stress," "Physical Activity Tips for Survivors."

Cancer Research UK: "Alcohol and chemotherapy," "Diet and exercise after acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)."

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: "Neutropenic Diet."

National Cancer Institute: "Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment (PDQ) - Patient Version."

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