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My friend is having a transplant

Ashling

Knowing your friend is going through something tough like a stem cell transplant can be hard. You might be thrilled that they're able to have this treatment, but worried about their recovery. You could have lots of questions and want to know how best to help.

On this page, we'll talk about the following:

Your friend's recovery

After your friend has had their stem cell transplant, they will spend at least a few weeks in hospital to recover. This allows them to recover from the conditioning therapy they had before their transplant and gives their new immune system time to develop.

When they come home, it will take time before they start to feel anything like ‘normal’ again. Although they may look much better than they did before their transplant, they could still have a long period of recovery ahead of them.

Some people find their recovery from stem cell transplant is relatively straightforward, but for others it can be very difficult and demanding. Your friend may have to deal with long-term side effects such as graft versus host disease (GvHD), fatigue and infections.

It’s also quite common for people to have to go back into hospital for further treatment. They will be monitored closely by their medical team so that if problems do happen, they can be dealt with quickly. They will also have regular hospital check-ups and blood tests to check that everything is ok.

It's normal to want to know more about your friend's treatment and recovery, but asking too many questions might be overwhelming for them. Thankfully, you can find out more about stem cell transplants on our webpages. They can tell you everything you need to know. They explain what a stem cell transplant is, the treatment your friend will have and what they can expect during their recovery. You can also ask the Anthony Nolan Patient Services team anything at patientinfo@anthonynolan.org or 0303 303 0303.

I knew nothing about bone marrow transplants in the beginning. Like Ashling, I like to have all the information, so I was straight onto the internet to try to find out as much as I could, talking to her, her mum and the doctors.

Marie, whose friend Ashling had a transplant in 2012

Practical help you can give

There are plenty of ways you can help your friend so that their day-to-day life is a little easier. You obviously know them better than we do, but the following suggestions might be useful. 

Childcare – If your friend has children, they may really appreciate you looking after them while they attend a hospital appointment or have a much-needed rest. The same might apply to their pets, too.

Housework – Offer to help with the cleaning, shopping or preparing meals that can be frozen (for when they are needed later).

Update others – Your friend may decide they only want to see a few close friends to begin with. You could suggest that you keep the wider circle of friends updated on their behalf, so that your friend doesn’t become too overwhelmed. 

Importance of your own health

Your friend’s immune system will not be as strong as yours, especially in the early stages of their recovery, which means they are at a greater risk of picking up an infection. So if you have a cold or illness, or even if you just feel slightly under the weather, it’s best to not see them – re-arrange any plans for when you are better.  

Your friend may seem uneasy or even paranoid when you visit because of the risk germs and dirt can pose to them. Try to be mindful of this, and make a point of washing your hands with either soap or alcohol gel as soon as you arrive.   

If you’re not sure about something, just ask! Your friend will appreciate you taking the risk of infection seriously. We also have more information on our dealing with infections page.

The most important aspect for me was to advise friends, and have them understand how important hygiene was, and not to visit if at all unwell.

Sarah, who had a stem cell transplant in 2010

Listening to difficult conversations

Your friend might go through some tough times in their recovery and they could turn to you for help and support.

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you exactly what to say to make everything OK. Often the most important thing is simply to listen, so they know that they're being heard and validated.

It might also be worth bearing the following suggestions in mind:

  • Ask open-ended questions that allow your friend to expand on how they're feeling.
  • Reflect back the main points you’ve heard. It will let your friend know you've understood.
  • Try to use open body language and keep eye contact.
  • Be supportive by reassuring your friend that how they are feeling is completely normal and if they're feeling bad, it won't last forever.
  • Don’t interrupt them, even if you think what you’re about to say is helpful. Wait until they have finished speaking first.
  • Ask if there's anything specific you can do to help, from the more practical tips above to things like checking in on them once a week, recommending TV shows, or sending funny videos!  

Information published: 06/01/22
Next review due: 06/01/25

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What is a stem cell or bone marrow transplant?

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