Leah drove herself to chemo – alone – this week. I had to wait for the furnace repair man to come. First let me say that while physically it was an acceptable choice, emotionally it did not feel okay. It should have been an easy, drama-free quickie treatment since it was just Herceptin (the targeted chemo that has no immediate side effects). And it was, except Leah’s blood work showed that she has neutropenia.
What is neutropenia? The short answer is that Leah’s immune system has crashed. The long answer is that chemo kills fast-growing cells like cancer, hair, and bone marrow where the components of blood and the lymphatic system are made. Leah’s white blood cells are currently 1.7 (normal range is 4-11) and her neutrophil number is .6 (normal range is 1.8-8). What this all means is that Leah’s ability to fight infection is seriously compromised. A cold, the flu, a skin infection: even the simplest germ could be life-threatening.
The good news is that these numbers can come back up again, and hopefully will in the next week or two. The bad news is that they can go back down again since she gets the Taxotere and Carboplatin every three weeks until mid-February. This could be a long road. The doctor told Leah to avoid people, especially groups, and to definitely stay away from sick people.
What you need to know is this: Please don’t kiss the cancer patient. Don’t kiss, don’t hug, don’t get close. Even if you think you aren’t sick. Because how do you know you didn’t catch something that’s brewing in you right this second? You will get an annoying cold, but Leah could end up in the ICU.
Here’s what else you need to know if your friend has neutropenia:
- Wash your hands. A lot. With soap. It doesn’t need to be antibacterial soap, but make sure you scrub them good.
- Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. And then wash your hands. If your 3-year-old doesn’t think to cover his/her mouth and tends to spray mucus everywhere, then please leave your 3-year-old at home if you can so all of Wegmans isn’t infected.
- Don’t go to work – especially in a restaurant – if you have cold or flu symptoms. If you are the restaurant boss, maybe you ought to think about offering sick time. A novel idea in the service industry. If you do have to go to work, cover your mouth and wash your hands. A lot. If you handle food, wear your damn gloves. They are required for a reason.
- Don’t be a close talker. You know who you are. (You’re probably also a mouth kisser. Ew.)
- Wear a mask at the doctor’s office if you think you might be contagious.
- Oh, and your unvaccinated babies? Please keep them far from Leah. When you make a choice not to vaccinate, you may be taking away someone else’s choice to live. You might think I’m being a germaphobe or judging you, but this is a matter of life or death. Think about it.
And may I add, if you do have the flu, please do not listen to Gwyneth Paltrow.