Dealing with Memory and Concentration Problems
Many people who have received chemotherapy say they have problems with short-term memory or problems concentrating. For most people, this effect is not serious enough to keep them from doing well in their job or in classes.
Many have found some of the following tips helpful:
- Carry a small notebook and write down things you want to remember. Make lists for yourself.
- Put up reminder notes where you will see them. This works best if you only have a few important notes. If you have notes everywhere, you may ignore them.
- Repeat things you want to remember, such as names. Repeating something out loud or in your mind can help you remember it.
- Practice saying key information you want to remember for an event. For example, if you want to make a point in a meeting, practice it beforehand.
Dealing with Infertility
Most people who have a bone marrow or cord blood transplant become infertile as a result of their treatment. Depending on your age and circumstances, this may be a hard side effect to accept.
You should be aware that not all transplant survivors become infertile. The likelihood can depend on your age and the details of your treatment. Some transplant survivors have gone on to have children. If you and your partner do not want to have a child, you should take steps to avoid a pregnancy.
Some couples are able to conceive a child using donated sperm or donated eggs. You may be able to adopt a child. However, some traditional adoption agencies may hesitate to work with you because you have been treated for a life-threatening illness. Another option may be to work with an attorney who specializes in arranging private adoptions.
One resource for more information about your options is the non-profit organization Fertile Hope - visit their Web site at www.fertilehope.org. Fertile Hope provides information and support to cancer patients whose treatment may cause infertility.
Other long-term effects
There are other side effects of a bone marrow or cord blood transplant that some patients experience. Some of these side effects can appear years after the transplant.
Some transplant survivors who had total body irradiation (TBI) can get hypothyroidism or other thyroid problems. The symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain and depression. If you develop hypothyroidism, treatment with thyroid hormone can help. Thyroid problems are more common in children than adults.
Risk of secondary cancers
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy both increase a person's risk of getting another kind of cancer later. People who had total body irradiation (TBI) or get chronic GVHD have an even higher risk. You and your doctor must watch for signs of a new cancer. The most common sites for cancer after transplant are the skin and mouth, but other kinds of cancer also occur.
Some transplant survivors develop cataracts (a clouding of the lens in your eye) about three to four years after transplant. Cataracts are common in survivors who were given total body irradiation (TBI) or who were given steroids (used to treat GVHD) for a long time. Cataracts can be removed in outpatient surgery when they begin to cause problems with your vision.
Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet is called peripheral neuropathy. It can be a side effect of some kinds of chemotherapy used before transplant. The numbness and tingling may get better over time, but it might never go away completely. It might also get worse over time. Talk with your doctor about treatments that could help.
Many transplant survivors have some sexual problems, such as loss of interest in sex, or pain, or sexual dysfunction. For more information about dealing with sexual problems after transplant, see "Getting Better" tab above.