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Life after a transplant

Men and women discussing Hodgkin's lymphoma

This page tells you about life after a transplant for Hodgkin lymphoma. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Life after a transplant

It takes a long time to get over intensive treatment such as a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. You may have to go back into hospital once or twice. And it may be a year before you really feel you are on the road to recovery.

For the first few months you will need to take special precautions to avoid infection. This means avoiding foods that might cause food poisoning or carry infections. You will also be advised to avoid crowded places, and not to have contact with people who have come into contact with infections such as chicken pox.

School, college or work

You won't be able to go back to normal daily activity until your white cell count is nearly normal. It is a good idea to start back part time. Talk to your employer, teacher or tutor about this. You may also want to think about whether you would like them to talk to your colleagues about your illness.

Exercise, travel and your sex life

Exercise will help you get your strength back. But while your platelet count is still low, you have to be careful about getting knocks. Once all your blood counts are getting back to normal you can do just about anything. If you want to travel abroad, talk to your doctors. You can't fly if your platelets are too low. A transplant does not physically stop you from having your normal sex life. But you may find that your sex drive is low for a while.

 

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Recovering

It takes a long time to get over intensive treatment such as a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. It is not unusual to have to go back into hospital once or twice. And it may be a year before you really feel you are on the road to recovery. You will still have your central line in until you no longer need platelet or blood transfusions. You may get at least one infection that means you have to be treated at the hospital.

Gradually you will put on weight and start to feel stronger. But it will take a while to get back to normal in the following areas of your life.

 

Eating and drinking

For the first few months

  • Eat only freshly cooked food
  • Avoid under cooked eggs
  • Avoid soft cheese and creamy cakes and puddings
  • Wash salads and fruit very thoroughly
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol
  • Avoid take aways and fast food restaurants

All of these precautions (apart from the alcohol) help to prevent infections. Too much alcohol can slow down the recovery of your bone marrow. Ask your doctor if alcohol will interfere with any drugs you are taking.

 

Your social life

Help to reduce the risk of infection by

  • Avoiding crowded places such as theatres, cinemas, restaurants, and public transport
  • Avoiding anyone you know who has come into contact with infections such as chicken pox or measles

Once your white cell count has recovered enough you will be able to go just about anywhere. This will take roughly 3 to 6 months but you must check with your doctor to be sure.

 

School, college or work

You will not be able to go back to normal daily activity until your white cell count is nearly normal. It is a good idea to start part time until you have got some of your strength back. Talk to your employer, teacher or tutor about this. You may also want to think about whether you would like them to talk to your colleagues about your illness and treatment. Or whether you would like to do this yourself.

 

Sport and exercise

Exercise will help you to get your strength back. But while your platelet count is still low, you have to be careful about getting any knocks. Choose something gentle like walking. When your white count is improving you can go swimming as long as you don't have a central line in. Once all your blood counts are getting back to normal you can do just about whatever you like.

 

Holidays and travel

If you want to go abroad, talk to your doctors. You can't fly if your platelets or white blood cells are too low. But otherwise when you have recovered from the transplant it is safe to travel. Whenever you go away from the hospital that treated you, it is helpful to carry a doctor's letter saying what you have had done and giving a phone number for emergencies. Your doctors will feel happier if they can contact a treatment centre close to where you are going. They will let the medical team know you are in the area, just in case you run into any problems. 

After the first year you can go wherever you like. But you should avoid some vaccinations. We have a page with detailed information about vaccinations after chemotherapy.

To start with, you are likely to have difficulty arranging travel insurance. Most companies will cover you for loss of luggage, delays and cancellations by the tour company. But at first, they will not want to cover you for the cost of medical treatment abroad. Or if you need to cancel the trip for medical reasons. If a company will insure you, they will almost certainly ask for a letter from your consultant about your fitness to travel. As the time since your treatment gets longer, you will find that it gets easier to get travel insurance.

Remember – you can travel without insurance. But you are taking a risk. If you travel in Europe, get a European Health Insurance Card. This ensures you are covered for medical treatment within the European Union and some other European countries. But you will not be covered if, for example, you need to be flown home. Or for the cost of extras in health care, such as trips by ambulance.

There is detailed information about travel insurance in our financial matters pages. If you would like more information about anything to do with getting insurance, contact one of the cancer information organisations. They will be happy to help. They often have free factsheets and booklets that they can send to you.

 

Your sex life

A transplant does not physically stop you from having your normal sex life. But you may find that your sex drive is low for a while. This may be due to

  • The treatment
  • Lack of strength and energy
  • Worry about the future
  • Feeling upset about losing your fertility
  • Lack of confidence after the changes caused by treatment (such as hair loss)
  • Getting used to changes in levels of sex hormones

Some of these take time to get used to. Some will get better on their own – for example, your hair will grow back and you will put on weight. The most important thing is to give yourself time. And to keep talking to your partner, if you have one, about how you both feel.

If you would like more information about anything to do with sexuality and cancer, contact our cancer information nurses. They will be happy to help.

 

Help and support

If you would like more information about life after treatment, contact one of the organisations on the Hodgkin lymphoma organisations page. There are also books and booklets about transplants, some of which are free. Look at our Hodgkin lymphoma reading list page for details.

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Updated: 19 June 2013