Chemotherapy & Low White Blood Cell Count

Chemotherapy works by killing fast-growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemo drugs can’t tell the difference between cancer cells and fast-growing healthy cells, including white blood cells. A side effect is a low white blood cell count which means the body cannot fight off infections, even small ones from a simple cold.

The day after your chemo treatment, you will have to return to the doctor to receive a shot because you are suddenly quite vulnerable to infections. If you catch a cold, the doctor will make you check into the hospital. It's that serious. The shot is that important. My shot was called Neulasta. It was kind of stingy and hot feeling but it went away quite fast, thank goodness.

Here are some ways to protect yourself from infections:

  • No mall, grocery store, schools, restaurants or other public places. Best to stay home a week and see how your next blood count check comes out. You will get your counts taken once a week. Once the doctor says your white count is good, then you can quote MLK - "free at last!"
  • Have your kitchen and bathroom wiped down and sprayed often with something that kills bacteria, germs and viruses. Someone else should do this, not you.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap often - when you get up in the morning, after you get dressed, before and after every meal, after working with dishes or laundry, after doing any cleaning. Follow up with a leave-on anti-bacterial sanitizer.
  • Bathe and shampoo daily.
  • Get a super soft toothbrush. I got myself a baby's 1st toothbrush. You need to avoid bleeding gums which sometimes happens after brushing.
  • Use lotion to help prevent cracks in your skin. Make sure your cuticles get some.
  • No manicures or pedicures at public salons. Never cut cuticles or pull hangnails.
  • Wear gloves to prevent cuts and scrapes. Better yet, let someone else handle knives and garden equipment. If you do get a little cut, wash it well with warm water and anti-bacterial soap, put on some triple antibiotic cream and cover with a bandaid. Keep it dry until a good scab has formed. Of course, call the doctor for anything beyond "minor."
  • Use an electric razor instead of a blade for shaving.
  • Avoid bad fitting shoes or any activity that could cause blisters on hands or feet.
  • No raw food at all. This includes seafood, meats, unpasteurized milk, and all fruits and veggies! Opt for canned fruit rather than fresh. Cook food thoroughly to kill infection-causing bacteria that may be in raw food.
  • Watch for signs of infection - redness, swelling, hotness, streaking, fever, weakness, pus.

Call your doctor immediately if you have:

  • Fever higher than 100F. Take your temperature every morning, afternoon and night.
  • Chills
  • Sneezing, runny nose, cough or sore throat
  • Loose stools/diarrhea
  • Changes in urination or a discharge that isn't "normal" urine
  • Mouth ulcers or sores in the throat. One of your chemo drugs might cause these. Open sores in the mouth area are extra susceptible to infection.
  • Hemorrhoids or sores near the rectum
  • Unusual vaginal discharge, burning or itching
  • Redness, swelling, or sores anywhere on the skin or in the mouth

My mom cleaned my bathrooms for me using clorox bleach and wipes and did the cooking that first week after each treatment. I wore gloves that went to my elbows while in the garden and told my neighbor I could not prune her roses anymore (I usually took care of them for her). I stayed indoors for a whole week after each treatment. I washed my hands and used sanitizer a lot. I was incredibly healthy during my four months of chemo. About a month after my last treatment I caught a wicked cold - it's as if my body knew to wait until I could handle it. I did have a "friend" at chemo who ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks because she caught a simple cold.

No comments: