It’s common that at some point during your chemotherapy treatment your white blood cell counts will drop - it happened to me. My decline coincided with the amount of treatments I received. My numbers started high and strong, so much so that I didn’t even know about them for my first few infusions. I ended my treatment BARELY scraping by, just at the threshold to receive my final dose of chemotherapy and subsequent mastectomy.
Chemotherapy drugs can be tough on your bone marrow. Why? Your bone marrow makes blood cells which grow rapidly. What does chemotherapy do? Attack rapidly growing cells - all of them, not just cancerous ones. As a result, new blood cell creation slows or even stops and your blood counts can fall. Your team is well aware of this (or should be!), which is why your blood is taken so frequently during treatment. Monitoring your blood allows your team to see how you are tolerating treatment, how your body is reacting and if you have an infection.
The blood test to check these numbers is called a Complete Blood Count (CBB) with differential. It measures the levels of five types of white blood cells in your blood. The counts need to stay within a certain range, or your body cannot continue to receive chemotherapy, surgery or other treatment, as lower counts mean your body is more prone to infections, anemia and bleeding.
The last thing you want to do as a cancer patient in active treatment is to pause, postpone or halt your regimen. That means you are not on the prescribed track for the treatment designed to kill the cancer in your body. As you can imagine blood draws become incredibly stressful as you wait to see what the blood count gods have in store for you.
The good news? There are some ways to ensure your numbers are at their best and even raise cell counts. Here’s a few tips:
Chances are your doctors are giving you an injection if they see your levels dropping. These medications are called growth factors or colony-stimulating factors (CSFs) that stimulate the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells to help the body fight infections. Depending on your specific needs, common ones administered are Neupogen and Neulasta. FYI! to lessen bone/body pain (a common side effect of the injections) take a Claritin the night before a Neulasta shot and/or take an epsom salt bath the day of and after your shots.
There’s a variety of ways you can support your white blood cell counts with everyday food items. You’ll want to focus on:
Some that can boost blood include: Astragulus (immune builder, we like this one), zinc (we like this one) and Selenium. Remember to always talk to your doctor about supplements!
(We don’t have to remind you of the importance of sleep, do we?) Read how I got rest and sleep during treatment.