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On the Psychological Preparation for Bone Marrow Transplant


By: Roy Proctor


Despite the prolonged discomfort that the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) side-effects bring, I can honestly claim that I enjoyed both of my transplant experiences immensely. I chose to perceive them as a rite of passage, in that they clearly marked the end of one life-stage and simultaneously the start of a new, novel one. I believe that my embracing attitude toward BMT, along with some skilled doctors and good luck, allowed me to recover quickly and thoroughly.

Considering that most people are not afforded such clearly defined rites of passage in our modern culture, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had two such experiences. They have informed me about my sense of self, life, and death. BMT offered me the gift of opportunity to mature emotionally; for that, I will always be thankful.

I usually surprise people when I tell them that I enjoyed both transplants, but honestly, I look fondly upon those experiences. It’s all about the perspective you choose to create for how you’re going to experience BMT. I decided to create a curious and open attitude through which I could sincerely enjoy myself during all the ridiculousness that BMT entails.

Sure, I have a congenital disease – Fanconi’s Anemia – have undergone two BMTs for AML, have developed two oral cancers as a consequence of BMT, and have a fairly short life-expectancy. However, I will argue that I am lucky not only to have survived them all, but to have thrived despite, or perhaps, because of them.

One could even reasonably argue that developing an optimistic attitude toward an illness may not be that difficult. Consider the alternative to deliberately developing a positive attitude: all you have left is misery, pain, and self-pity. I never want any of those very seductive attitudes to ever infiltrate my sense of self – they do not represent the person whom I choose to be.

Thus, given the two options, and not much wiggle room between those two extremes, optimism was an easy decision to have made. I was, in no way, born with such a perspective on cancer – I believe that to be impossible, or at the very least, implausible. Instead, I carefully cultivated this attitude over many years. Nothing about BMT is easy – it simply is not. It’s going to be a life-altering event and it will likely contribute significantly to your personality ever after.  It is that intense of an experience.

While there exist many variables surrounding BMT over which I recognized I had no control, I realized that I could control how I responded to the experience; I could control my attitude. I asked myself whom I wished to be throughout the BMT process, and how I wanted to cope with the inevitable difficulties during this experience. While I could not influence the currents of the ocean, I could create for myself a rudder with which to steer my attitude toward traveling to my desired destinations.  I don’t think I have any special abilities – anyone can make the decision to be joyful during BMT – and I cannot recommend enough putting some thought into doing so.

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