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Learning to Cope With Leukemia

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By Sarah Cook, Department of Social Work

An acute leukemia diagnosis can make you feel as if the world has stopped -- for you, the patient, and for your loved ones.  

Before diagnosis there was grocery shopping, work, coffee dates and laundry. Now, suddenly, life is lab work, test results and an endless stream of medical professionals --many of whom you can't identify by name.  

The information comes fast and furious: "you have leukemia," "we're running tests," "you're being admitted" and "we're placing a PICC line."

A PICC line? What's a PICC line? Will my insurance pay for this? Will I lose my job? What the heck is a stem cell transplant? Is that the same as a bone marrow transplant?  


To say that a new leukemia diagnosis can be overwhelming would be putting it mildly.  

If this has been your experience, please know that you're not alone. Also, know that there's support to help you and your loved ones cope with your diagnosis and treatment. MD Anderson social work counselors are available to offer emotional support and to help link you with helpful resources.  

If you or your loved one has recently been diagnosed with leukemia, there are a few things you need to remember as you begin to cope with this new situation.

Three things to remember:

  1. It's OK to ask questions. You have a right to be informed about your treatment plan and you won't offend the medical team by asking questions. Keep a notepad with you and write down questions as you think of them. It's normal to get flustered and forget what you wanted to ask when the doctor arrives. If you have your questions written down, you can concentrate on the answers.  
  2. Anyone can post anything on the Internet. When learning about your new diagnosis, consider the source. Many patients and families run to the Internet for information about a new diagnosis. Remember that not everything online is true and once-accurate information on cancer quickly becomes outdated. The Learning Center at MD Anderson offers up-to-date and accurate information on health, cancer and cancer prevention.
  3. Be open about difficulties you may be experiencing. If you encounter a problem that may interfere with your ability to receive treatment, let your medical team know or contact the Department of Social Work to speak with a social work counselor. There may be resources available to help you overcome barriers to treatment, but we can't help if we don't know that there's a problem. 
If you're an MD Anderson patient and would like to talk with someone about what you're going through, call Social Work at 713-792-6195, or ask your nurse or physician to connect you with a social work counselor. Many social work counselors facilitate support groups for patients, their children and loved ones.

Networking with other patients and families

Leukemia Center Network is a new group offering support to patients receiving treatment through MD Anderson's Leukemia Center, as well as to their caregivers. The group meets the first Tuesday of each month in The Learning Center (Main Building, Floor 4, near Elevator A), 3:30-4:30 p.m.  

Leukemia Center Network offers education through guest speakers, as well as the opportunity to network with patients and families going through a similar experience. The Leukemia Center Network is sponsored by Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Leukemia Center Network schedule:
  • February 7 - Leukemia Center 101
  • March 6 - Understanding Stem Cell Transplant
  • April 3 - Managing Your Inpatient Stay
  • May 1 - Coping with Long-Term Hospital Stays
  • June 5 - Integrative Medicine
If you'd like more information on Leukemia Center Network, please contact group facilitators Sarah Cook (713-563-2404) or Johanna Pule (713-745-5050).

Sign up for information on upcoming educational events at MD Anderson's Leukemia Center by emailing leukemia@mdanderson.org.

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