Imagine that you haven’t been feeling well for the past few weeks.  You’ve been tired. Short of breath. More prone to infections and fevers. Your muscles are sore, and you’ve been bruising more easily.

You visit your primary care provider or make the trip to urgent care, but the doctors and nurses there aren’t sure what’s wrong. They decide to take a blood test to learn more.

In a few hours, you get a call back with some distressing news. The results of the blood test show that you most likely have acute leukemia, and you should immediately report to the hospital for treatment.

That treatment, by the way, is an intense course of chemotherapy that will require four to six weeks of hospitalization to address the side effects, which can range from the unpleasant (nausea) to the painful (sores) to the life-threatening (sepsis).

It sounds like something out of a nightmare.

Unfortunately, this is the all too real scenario many patients experience after an acute myeloid leukemia  (AML) diagnosis.

While the condition is treatable, the seriousness of the diagnosis and the intensity of the treatment can be so traumatic that some AML patients have compared it to being abducted. Many develop severe psychological distress as a result, adding yet another layer of trauma to their ordeal.

Palliative care—a practice of medicine that designed to enhance the patient’s quality of life (QOL) while undergoing treatment for serious illness—has proven effective in alleviating distress in AML patients. But there are not enough palliative care physicians to go around.

Could an app help with that?

That’s the question being investigated by a team of clinicians and researchers led by Areej El-Jawahri, MD, associate director of the Cancer Outcomes Research and Education Program and Director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Survivorship Program at the Mass General Cancer Center.

El-Jawahri recently collaborated with the team in the Healthcare Transformation Laboratory at Mass General to develop DreAMLand, an iPad-based app that uses an engaging game-like format to provide palliative care information and services for AML patients. Read more.