When I went back for my third chemo treatment on June 24th the blood tests came back with flags all over the place because my white blood cell count was way down. This is known as neutropenia and is not all that uncommon while on chemo. The oncologist seemed to think that an extra week would give the white cells time to build back up, so treatment was rescheduled for the next week. Sure enough when I returned the following week, the blood test showed the counts were back up. They weren’t up a lot, but enough to continue the chemo.
I was also beginning to feel the effects of yet another side effect of chemo. Researchers call it chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction/impairment or cancer-therapy associated cognitive change. Those of us who have it call it chemo-brain. On the one hand, it's quite frustrating to keep experiencing memory lapses and brain farts. On the other hand, it's nice to have something to blame besides old age! It’s as though your brain is a big, overstuffed, disorderly filing cabinet: everything is in there, but it’s in no particular order. So in the middle of a sentence, the word that was on the tip of your tongue just disappears, or you forget the name of someone you’ve known for years. You have to go digging in the recesses of your brain file to find it, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
We ran into the same problem of low white cell counts when I went for my fourth treatment. This time the three week wait hadn't helped, so the oncologist decided I would benefit from Neupogen shots and another week's delay. Neupogen is known as a granulocyte colony-stimulating factor analog , which means that it is a substance that stimulates the production, maturation and activation of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) from the bone marrow. It also causes some pretty nasty side effects, including bone pain. I was scheduled to receive three shots over three days. When I went in for the second shot I had mild to moderate low back pain, and the nurse told me that many patients find that taking a Tylenol before receiving the shot seems to help, and others have reported that an antihistamine like Claritin works also. If only I had known that BEFORE I got the shot! That night I woke up with every bone in my body hurting, even my skull, which felt like it might split open. It was horrible. I took a Tylenol and was able eventually to go back to sleep. Heeding the nurse's advice, I took another Tylenol before going in for the third shot. It worked like a charm- no more bone pain! My blood test the next week when I went in for the fourth chemo treatment showed that my white cell counts were back up. Both my lymphocytes and granulocytes were almost back to normal. So now I’m halfway through the chemo! Four more to go! You can see how happy I am about that in this pic.
The infusion chairs are pretty comfortable, but I'm so lightweight that I need help getting mine to recline. I usually take a shawl or pashmina to put round my shoulders and the center supplies us with blankets to keep us warm- the purple fleece blanket was made by some volunteers, and I was told it is my blanket to keep and bring back every week. We also have a good wifi connection so we're able to use our electronic devices. I take my Kindle Fire so when I'm not talking to my infusion mates or the nurses, I can check e-mail, play on facebook, stream movies from Amazon, Netflix or PBS, read or listen to music.
I received three more Neupogen shots this week. I had no bone pain, thanks to the Tylenol, and was able to attend yoga class Monday night. I got the third shot in the series yesterday and am hoping everything will be on target when I go for my fifth treatment next Wednesday.