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Donna's story

My lightbulb moment with anxiety

Donna, 52, first had treatment for follicular lymphoma in 2009. She relapsed in 2018 and had treatment again. She’s now on a two-year maintenance treatment plan.

Donna, 52, first had treatment for follicular lymphoma in 2009. She relapsed in 2018 and had treatment again. She’s now on a two-year maintenance treatment plan.


Please note, this story was written before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. If you’re shielding, some of the activities described here may not be appropriate for you. Speak to your healthcare team for tailored advice – they know you and your individual circumstances.

Living with blood cancer trips you up. Even though you know, logically, what’s going on, you can still be totally overwhelmed. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster of the old emotions.

When I was first diagnosed in 2008, I was training to be a counsellor so had loads of support around me. Then during the second round of treatment in 2018, I absolutely collapsed. I couldn’t get my head around a lot of it, and it took quite a bit of energy from me emotionally. I had a complete anxiety attack during chemotherapy in hospital. I totally froze. But the hospital staff were great with me.

I just had no control at all, which was really difficult for my husband to watch. But since then, I have honed a bunch of strategies that help.

Developing relaxation strategies

Going back to the basics, it’s about understanding how your body reacts to anxiety and stress, and dealing with that straight away rather than allowing it to build.

So I found ways to relax: meditation, visualisation and a lot of mindfulness. Once I start to feel panicky, I use a mindfulness technique for grounding myself. I look for five things I can see, five things I can touch, five things I can hear and five things I can smell.

You can search for relaxation and mindfulness guides online, which are easy to follow. There are a lot of people who are doing this now, so look for local clubs. There’s one near me that does mindfulness and nature.

Using music as well – that got me through chemotherapy. I’d stick my headphones on and listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Being creative

Creativity is another release of mine – I paint and do digital graphic art. I shut the door and for two or three hours I’m totally lost in it. If I took my blood pressure or heart rate at that moment, they would be at resting levels, which is fantastic.

Find whatever is a creative outlet for you: gardening, knitting, sewing, painting, woodwork, metal work. We all have the ability to be creative.

Facing your fears

For me it was about actually understanding what was going on in my head and facing my fear. Ultimately, death anxiety is the biggest fear that we all have.

I then had the lightbulb moment where I thought, “Right, I’ve been given another chance.” So, for me, it was, right, get out, do something constructive with your life. I’ve done loads within the last few months that I haven’t done for years.

Janssen-Cilag Ltd has supported Blood Cancer UK with funding for the production of this web page and others within the ‘Living well’ section. It had no influence over the content.

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