I’m a country girl at heart. I grew up hugging stinky golden retrievers, riding and mucking out horses and generally covered in a good couple of layers of dirt. Even now I’m at my happiest in a Barbour and wellies stomping through muddy fields in the rain. So, one of the hardest aspects of chemo treatment so far has been the need to keep germs at bay.
As I’ve explained in previous blogs, chemotherapy knocks your immune system for six. Attacking all your good cells as well as bad. Suddenly the results of your blood tests you have to have before each chemotherapy treatment become incredibly important. There’s a base level of White Blood Cells and neutrophils your oncologist wants to see before chemo is administered, if you start too low and chemo knocks them down further you can be left with zero immunity. And the kind of little bugs and bacteria that normally hang around our bodies quite harmlessly can suddenly turn into rip roaring infections that could actually kill you. Nobody wants to end up in hospital with an infection while on chemo.
The other issue is that if your blood results are deemed too low then your chemo will be delayed until they recover. I had a week delay between sessions 1 and 2 after an ear infection and two rounds of antibiotics sent my neutrophils into my boots. Delays are not ideal, your carefully planned treatment programme is designed to target your cancer as effectively as possible. Delays can have an effect on the chances of your cancer returning. I took my delay pretty badly, there was a LOT of wailing and a bit of shouting. Some of it while still sat on the chemo ward.
I was told that bloods dropping that low early on is something they see more often in young people and when it’s happened once then it’s likely to happen all the way through. Well that was like a red rag to a bull and the stubborn part of me was bloody determined to prove them wrong. But sadly, that means this mud-lovin’ country girl has had to turn into a germ freak and I hate it.
Germs are good
I’ve always prided myself on being one of those parents who doesn’t freak out when their child picks up someone else’s discarded snack off the floor (don’t judge me – Freddie has a seriously quick hand to mouth reflex, it’s like trying to part a lion from it’s kill!) I’m also pretty laid back about him mixing with other children who are ill – I’ve blogged before on how I think it’s good for their little developing immune systems to be exposed to germs. But fast forward to Chemo Mummy and I now see a trip out with Freddie as a marathon battle against germs. I spend the afternoon on high alert ready to swoop in and stop him eating someone else’s food or drinking from their cups. If he touches anything suspect then I’m right there with the baby wipes to decontaminate him. But this is all very alien to me and one of the things I’m most looking forward to after finishing chemo is allowing him to just get on with it and run riot. I refuse to stay away from him when he’s ill though. A sick little boy needs a cuddle from his mummy. I’ve been lucky so far, he’s not had anything too serious and we’ve got away with our snotty kisses.
Horrors of hot-desking
Work has has become a whole new world of stress now too. Working in a hot-desking environment means germs are rife. So, I’m waging a one-woman war on dirt and bacteria with the powerful weapons of antibacterial wipes and hand gel. I have to wipe down at least 3 desks a day as I hop from studio to studio and I carry round my own set of head phones. I’ve had a few ‘aren’t you thorough!’ comments from people as I manically wipe down the computer and microphone – to which I respond with a wail “THIS IS NOT ME! It’s the bloody cancer’s fault!” I really think there are a few people at work who think I’m just a bit weird around germs now. I keep a giant pack of anti-bac wipes in my locker and use them pretty liberally. Cleanliness is costing me a fortune. But worse than the moniker of Mrs Mop at work is the anxiety that is brought on if someone declares themselves a bit ‘under the weather’. I spend the rest of the day on high alert trying not to touch anything they’ve touched or breathe the same air (tricky in an open plan air conditioned office!)
Avoiding public transport
That unease extends to going out and about. I’ve avoided public transport as much as possible but did have to make a train journey down to London a few weeks back and run the gauntlet of germs on the tube. This led to many a risky balance moment as I tried to avoid touching the handrail on the escalator and tube carriages. But that was all easy compared to being stuck in a train carriage with a man coughing in a “Computer says no” fashion all the way home. Too British to ask him to move away my gaze darted desperately around to spot a seat I could move to that was out of the firing line. But sod’s law there were none available so I spent the best part of a 3-hour journey, turning blue while trying not to breathe and attempting to surreptitiously cover my mouth with my scarf.
And of course, if trains are bad them planes are worse. My oncologist advised against going on holiday while having chemo as planes are primed for passing illness around passengers. So, to add insult to injury as well as being stressed up to the eyeballs trying not to get ill I can’t even go on holiday to try and relax for a while!
The days of dirt are not over
As with all things treatment related I keep reminding myself that this too shall pass. I’ve so far managed to keep serious illness at bay with a combination of my intensive handwashing and anti-bac wipe regime with the addition of some Manuka honey (as advised by my chemo nurse) and a few disgusting tasting nutritional supplements aimed at boosting my under fire immune system.
But every cloud has a silver lining…as I can’t possibly be exposed to all the germs cleaning the house it means we’ve had to get a cleaner again. Result!