Each person's transplant experience is unique. Some people recover fairly quickly, in a matter of months. Others can take years. Many transplant survivors experience ongoing challenges related to their treatment.
You may experience some stressful emotions in the months or years after transplant:
- Anger or depression, because you do not feel better as soon as you expected.
- Frustration, because of chronic or lingering fatigue that keeps you from things you want to do or accomplish.
- Mood changes caused by the drugs you must take after transplant.
- Dissatisfaction with old plans and goals. Identifying new priorities and making lifestyle changes may feel good, but can also be stressful.
- Fear that your illness might return.
- Guilt, because you are doing well while other transplant recipients you know may not.
You may not have any of these feelings. But if you do, you are not alone.
Talking with a counselor or others who understand your experience can help you sort out your feelings and find ways to improve your situation.
Almost all transplant survivors feel tired, weak, exhausted, or slow at some time during recovery. However, it is important to recognize that fatigue due to treatment is different than simply feeling tired. Fatigue is not typically caused by too much activity, but from changes in your body due to transplant. It can also be caused by physical or emotional stress. For people recovering after transplant, fatigue is a common medical condition. If left untreated, it can lead to chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue can lead to anxiety and depression, which can impact your recovery.
It is common for survivors to experience worries or fears related to their experience. When constant anxiety interferes with daily life, it could be considered a medical problem. Your doctor can help you determine if this is the case.
During treatment, you may have to put parts of your life on hold - such as dealing with family problems, school, work or financial issues.
As you move into your "new normal," you find that these problems did not go away. It can be stressful if you worry that you are not up to dealing with these demands. Many survivors worry that stress in their lives may have caused their illness and renewed stress will bring it back. While stress can contribute to some health problems, remember that diseases like cancer can and do strike anyone.
If you feel responsible for your illness, talking to a counselor might help.
Many people feel sad, tense and angry as a result of their illness. Even people who were positive throughout their treatment can become depressed. It is a natural response to stress.
These feelings usually decrease over time. But for some people, the feelings get worse, until they interfere with daily life. Depression is more than "feeling down." It is not something you can simply shake off or talk yourself out of. It is a medical condition that requires treatment.
If you have any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor about being screened for depression. If you are diagnosed with depression, getting help is important for your life and your health.
Emotional Signs of Depression
- Worries, fears that do not go away
- Emotional numbness
- Feeling overwhelmed, out of control
- A sense of guilt or worthlessness
- Helplessness or hopelessness
- Irritability and moodiness
- Difficulties concentrating, remembering
- Crying a lot
- Focusing on worries or problems
- Not being able to get a thought out of your mind
- Not being able to stop yourself from doing things that seem silly
- Not being able to enjoy things anymore, such as food, sex or socializing
- Avoiding situations or things that you know are really harmless
- Suicidal thoughts or feeling that you are losing control. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and you will be directed to the crisis center nearest you.
Physical Signs of Depression
Note that many physical signs of depression may also be related to your treatment.
- Unintended weight gain or loss
- Insomnia or increased need for sleep
- Racing heart, dry mouth, increased perspiration, upset stomach, diarrhea
- Physically slowing down
- Fatigue that does not go away
- Headaches or other aches and pains
Getting help for depression
Your doctor might refer you to a therapist who is experienced in treating depression in people recovering from a life-threatening illness. You might also ask about prescription medication to help you feel less afraid and tense.
Share your concerns with your doctor or other health care professional and develop a treatment plan together. Don't give up. Help is available.
To find a counselor, you should contact your insurance company for a list of practicing counselors in your area. If you do not have insurance, talk with a social worker at your transplant center or contact a community clinic in your area to identify other resources.
More than stress: post-traumatic stress disorder
Coping with long-term illness and recovery can cause a lot of stress for both patients and caregivers. It is common for people to experience emotional aftershocks when they have been through a traumatic event.
The signs and symptoms of stress reaction can last days, weeks or months. When symptoms are severe and long-lasting, they may indicate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Untreated, PTSD can hurt a person's ability to function and lead to problems with family and friends, as well as problems with work and school. It can be hard to recognize PTSD because it often occurs together with other problems in physical or mental health. It is not unusual for doctors to treat the symptoms without being aware that they may stem from PTSD.
On the other hand, all physical symptoms should be thoroughly explored before determining that PTSD is the sole cause.
If you suspect post-traumatic stress disorder, either in yourself or the person you are caring for, talk to your doctor about being evaluated. Counseling and group therapy can be effective. Many people with PTSD have also benefited from drug therapy to treat their depression and anxiety and to help them cope.