Archives for posts with tag: blood count

20130706-165455.jpgThis week I gave my first breast cancer awareness talk to a class of young women at Notre Dame school in south London. It was my first experience as one of the ‘Boobettes,’ a group of young women who’ve all had breast cancer or some kind of scare and who are now helping Coppafeel! spread the message to boys and girls around the UK to check their boobs.

I did the presentation with Jo, a fellow breast cancer survivor who had the disease at the remarkably young age of 21 and who is doing fabulously now, 15 years later. I talked about my personal experience while Jo talked more about the charity. The teenage girls were very receptive and asked everything from “Do you sometimes have to have your boob chopped off?” to “Are you going to be able to have children?” Ah, life’s big questions! Let’s just say I got a proper grilling, but I didn’t mind.

image (2)Here I am, coppin’ a feel, and above with Jo, Coppafeel!’s Maren and a giant boob.

The next day, I got some results back from a blood test I’d had earlier in the week at my local doctors. It was my first blood test since December, and I was quite alarmed to discover that my blood counts have not returned to normal since finishing chemotherapy. My white blood cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes are still lower than they should be, meaning my immune system hasn’t returned to normal and I’m not quite the strong ox I thought I was. There’s nothing I can do to raise the blood counts, but my GP is writing to my oncologist to see if anything needs to be done. Given that I haven’t had so much as a cold since before Christmas, I thought my immune system must be pretty strong, but maybe I’ve just been lucky.

image (3)Meanwhile, my hair has been growing pretty nicely and is starting to look a bit like my Dad’s. If I don’t comb it down when I get out the shower, it sticks up hedgehog-style, so here’s a pic of me post-shower and au naturel, with Pricey Senior. Also note my make-up-less eyebrows, which are still a shadow of their former selves but slowly, slowly getting there. (The eyelashes, on the other hand, are pretty much back to their pre-chemo state).

This morning I did my final bit of training for the 10k Race for Life I’m doing in London next Sunday (14th July). I practically killed myself running up and down the hills of Yorkshire in 25C heat today and I haven’t managed to run 10k in less than an hour yet, but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. If you’d like to sponsor me and Team Stylist 10 to raise money for the all-important life-saving charity that is Cancer Research UK, please click here.

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Finally, I thought you might like to see this picture of me after my first post-treatment 3k run (in the snow) in February, vs. my third 10k run (in the boiling sunshine) today. Evidentally I’m not looking quite so much like a cancer patient these days. Cancer, we’re coming to get you!

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Friday turned out to be rather stressful. Having had a higher-than-normal temperature for almost a week, I had been to the doctors for a full blood count test, to check if everything was in order before I headed to London for my nutritionist appointment (of which, more in a later post). Of course, when I called for my results, the receptionist told me to call back at 11:30am, which was precisely the time my train set off for London.

When I was admitted to hospital with a high temperature a few weeks ago, I had a condition called neutropenia, where I had an abnormally low number of white blood cells called neutrophils. While I was neutropenic, anyone who entered my hospital bedroom had to wear rubber aprons and gloves so as not to spread their germs, because an infection can quickly become life-threatening for chemotherapy patients. My neutrophil and white blood cell levels at the time were something like 0.5 (i.e. extremely low).

Naturally, I was concerned on Friday that my GP would call back and tell me I was neutropenic again, and I’d have to abort my lovely first-class train journey with my mother and pay £100+ to jump on the next train back home, forfeiting my nutritionist appointment and weekend plans. So imagine my surprise when the good doctor called back and told me my white blood cells and neutrophils were at 39.7 and 34.9 respectively!

These abnormally high levels, he said, indicated that I must have an active infection but that my immune system (for once!) was fighting it extremely well, producing more white blood cells to kill the nasties. Of course, the daily injections I’ve been having are to boost my immune system and the blood test was taken on day eight of the daily injections, so there was every chance my counts were artificially high because of those shots.

Slightly alarmed, I called the hospital to ask them what to do. Did I need to get the next train to the hospital in Manchester because I had an infection? Or was I fine to continue with my plans because my body was fighting it effectively? I felt absolutely fine in myself, apart from the slightly worrying temperature, nose bleeds, hot flushes, tiredness and other usual chemo side effects.

I managed to get all the way to London, do my final self-injection in the loo of a Vauxhall Pret a Manger café and have my 1.5-hour nutritionist appointment before I got a definitive response from the hospital: I was absolutely fine. The abnormally high white blood count was a natural response to the daily shots and my immune system was behaving exactly as it ought to. I still to this day don’t know whether I had an infection or not, but I have at least stopped worrying about it.

I didn’t manage to perform a jig after my last self-injection because I was still too stressed at that point. My left eye has also been twitching sporadically for the past few days, something that happens when I am stressed. A quick straw poll revealed that a twitchy eye is a Price-family-wide problem. (Good to know it’s not just a side effect of the leftover eyelash glue.) I went to a doctor about it many years ago and was told it was “psychological”. I had saved up four different problems for that particular doctors visit as I didn’t think it sufficient to take two hours off work to ask about a twitchy eye alone, and the very unhelpful GP kindly declared every single one of my ailments as “psychological”. So that told me!

I do feel bad going to the doctor and being told there’s nothing wrong with me. I am a constant guilt sufferer. They tell you to report everything from high temperatures to sore veins to stomach pains, but then you do so and find out there’s nothing wrong and you start feeling like a hypochondriac time-waster. But, as with the lump in my breast that I decided to seek a second opinion on, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

I finally got back from London late last night after spending Monday catching up with different friends, among whom a 9-months-and-one-week pregnant lady and a friend hobbling around on crutches after breaking her toes surfing. When I went to bed at 8pm on Sunday night and slept until 9am Monday morning because I was so shattered, I never imagined I’d be the fittest and most able-bodied of my friends come Monday afternoon!

The good news is the hot flushes seem to have finally stopped, which means I can rule out the menopause and blame it all on the steroids. I may have had a wee glass of champagne with my hotdog on Saturday night to celebrate (as you do).

I was always planning on a Saturday night in front of the TV watching the X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Jonathan Ross. I just wasn’t planning on watching it all at the hospital.

I had been getting the tiniest of nosebleeds on Friday night and Saturday and decided late Saturday afternoon to ring the chemotherapy hotline as I knew it could be a symptom of a low blood platelet count and I wanted to make sure I was ok.

Unfortunately, the nurse advised me that I needed a blood test and would have to go to the hospital to get it. My chemotherapy drug, Taxotere, can have a massive effect on the bone marrow and lead to reduced blood platelets, which could mean my blood failing to clot. I spoke to the oncologist, who also said patients usually start with a small nosebleed and then get a much bigger one later, so it was best for me to get it checked out. Since I have also had a little itchy rash on my neck for the past few days and this is another symptom of low platelet levels, I knew I should get it checked.

Unfortunately, I would require a platelet transfusion if my levels were low. Normal levels are between 150 and 400, according to a quick Internet search, and a platelet transfusion – which is different from a normal blood transfusion – would require an overnight stay at the hospital.

And so it was that I quickly packed an overnight bag and we set off last night towards the Christie in Manchester. We could have gone to A&E at a nearby hospital in Huddersfield, but I didn’t fancy waiting in a noisy room with the usual Saturday night crowd of drunken teenagers requiring stomach pumping and domestic violence victims. This turned out to be a very wise decision.

At the hospital I was given a very painful blood test – painful because my veins are no longer working properly and refused to give blood, and as a consequence I now have a huge bruise. So much for no more injections for 10 days!

We then waited for an hour while watching Strictly Come Dancing in a private room before getting my result. The result came back just before 9pm and the good news was that my platelet levels were ok (190) and I wouldn’t need a transfusion – PHEW! The oncologist was satisfied, but unfortunately he wanted me to wait to see a doctor before I could leave, and this meant waiting for an on-call doctor who had to see all the emergency cases before she could see me.

Two and a half hours later, the on-call doctor arrived. She was much younger than myself and ran through a series of tests and questions on pretty much everything I could imagine. Finally, at 11:30pm, I was given the all-clear and could go home. The whole trip took six hours. Although we missed dinner, I know I should count myself very lucky that I got to sit watching X Factor and Jonathan Ross in a comfortable private room instead of sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a possibly blood-drenched A&E room at the local public hospital.

So, just a typical Saturday night…

The silver lining was that the clocks went back last night so when we arrived home at 00:30, it was actually only 23:30 and we could all have an extra hour in bed. And, to make up for the missed dinner last night, I just had a large sirloin steak for Sunday lunch and – as an extra special treat – a small glass of red. I’m sure the red meat and wine will help boost my platelet levels, right?

In your FACE, insomnia! I slept for 7 hours after the warning of a steroid-induced sleepless night.

Amazingly, the magic pills brought my blood count right back up so Brandi and I were able to have the chemo today. I am fairly convinced they got my test tubes mixed up with someone else’s since the levels went up from 0.5 yesterday to 5.3 today. It doesn’t take a medical genius to see that’s a pretty big change but I’ve got to trust my doctor!

After another full day in hospital I am utterly exhausted (and not at all hyper, like I apparently should be after the steroids) and ready for a long sleep. But not before I have a massive bowl of pasta and pine nuts – the steroids do at least make me ravenous, though that’s nothing unusual.

Unfortunately, the boiler has broken at home and we have no heating or hot water. My Dad spent 5 hours trying to get through to British Gas yesterday but typically on the first day of cold weather when the entire country switches on their boilers for the first time in six months, they were a tad busy. Fortunately the gas man is coming around tonight and the cat has already availed herself of the electric radiator in my room.

As you can see, the weather forecast is entirely favourable towards me spending a week in bed, so that I shall do! I am feeling pretty shocking and definitely ready for a loooong sleep.

So, it’s three down, three to go!! I won’t consider myself officially half way through chemo until I’ve got through the next few days of general yuckiness, but nevertheless please have a drink on my behalf to celebrate the almost-half-way mark! Woo hoo!

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