If you’re going through cancer treatment, you probably know what “leukopenia” is: low white-blood-cell count (WBC). “Neutropenia” is similar, referring to a particular type of white-blood cells, the neutrophils. You probably also know that a low WBC means increased risk of infection and hospital stays. But do you know how to protect yourself?
White blood cells are the workhorses of your immune system, responsible for protecting the body against foreign materials (viruses and bacteria) and infections. A normal count is anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000/mm3. A low count is defined as anything below 3,500.
If you have a low count, your body is much more susceptible to infection. Fever is the most likely symptom. Infection tends to hit the gastrointestinal system, lungs, throat, and the bladder, so other symptoms can include diarrhea, stomach cramps, rectal bleeding and urination problems. Low WBC are also the cause of mouth sores and can lead to sinus infections. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. He may choose to delay chemo treatments, reduce the dosage, or recommend medications that boost the count. (Neulasta is a common one.)
To protect yourself while your defenses are down, survivors suggest the following precautions. You may feel a little bit like an alien, but it’s better than landing in the hospital, if you can help it.
- Wash your hands frequently with warm water and a gentle, anti-bacterial, non-toxic hand wash like California Baby’s
- Dry, chapped skin is more prone to infection-moisturize often with organic or sensitive formulas
- Avoid sick people and large crowds (such as those at the mall)
- Avoid knives and other sharp objects that can cut or injure you
- Wear gloves and a mask whenever possible
- Get more vitamin C, preferably with rose hips and bioflavonoids, which are better tolerated at higher doses
- Take a quality multi-vitamin (capsules are typically absorbed easier than tablets)
- Take daily acidophilus and garlic supplements
- Try goldenseal, astragalus, and reishi herbs for immune-boosting, even tumor-fighting power
- Let others open doors for you, and wear gloves or wipe down grocery-store carts
- Take hand sanitizer with you and use it frequently (we like toxin-free Clean Well Hand Sanitizer)
- Avoid fresh fruits and vegetables-eat cooked or canned instead
- Walk for about 30 minutes a day-it naturally increases white blood cells
- Increase your intake of immune-boosting foods like yogurt, garlic, pot roast, pumpkin, shitake mushrooms, spinach, carrots and sweet potatoes
- Avoid raw fish
- Drink green tea-often-and add lemon juice for additional protection
- Drink lots of filtered water (avoid tap whenever possible)
- Don’t forget healthy proteins in your diet, like canned fish, turkey, chicken, eggs and nuts
- Change bed sheets weekly
- Clean and disinfect the bathroom and kitchen sinks regularly with toxin-free cleaners (or have some sweet soul do it for you!)
- Flush the toilet with the seat down to avoid airborne bacteria
- Don’t share anything, particularly makeup, hair brushes, or any personal-hygiene items
- Do your best to get a good night’s rest
Have any tips for making it through low-blood-count days? They could be helpful to others, so please share.
Photo courtesy of the_repairman, via Flickr.com.