Red Blood Cell

Walk a Mile In My Shoes …

… before you give me unasked for advice on how to avoid getting sick so often.

Let me start by saying I have a great support network of friend, colleagues, and relatives who all care deeply for me and my health.  I am gently pushed, reminded  and encouraged daily to lead a healthy(ier) lifestyle, to get to the gym, to eat the proper foods.  I have friends who run marathons, compete in IRONMAN events, work out daily, and dedicate a significant portion of their lives to health.

They inspire me.

They all have stories, anecdotal evidence, and advice from gurus they trust on how to lead a healthy life.  And, for the most part, their knowledge and advice is good and true.  They all have faced personal tragedy, health issues, and have come back strong.  They all have reasons to be proud of themselves and their accomplishments.

Strapped to a table for cancer radiation therapy

Strapped to a table for cancer radiation therapy

Yet none of them have had to endure the ravaging effects of cancer the way I have.  None of them have laid, strapped to a table for almost an hour a day for seven weeks straight, getting radiation therapy.  They have not had to endure three seven-hour regiments of chemotherapy administered intravenously.  A chemotherapy drug called cisplatin that is a derivative of mustard gas and is so toxic that it quite literally oft-times destroys the kidneys in the patient receiving it.

They say sometimes you have to nearly kill to patient to cure the patient.  That’s certainly true in cancer patients.  The morbidity of cancer treatments is very high; at least mine were.  The effects of chemo and radiation have had a drastic impact on my health.  I am now close to the five-year mark; that magical waypoint in life post-cancer where you are considered “cured.”  Any cancer after the five-year mark is considered a “new” instance of the disease and not related to the first.

And yet, for all the time that has passed, I still struggle with the effects of the treatments that saved me.

One of my blood panels

One of my blood panels

My blood counts are no longer normal.  I get regular blood work done by my oncologist and it always s hows the exact same thing now.  I have low red blood count, low HCT count (the % of red blood cells in the blood), and low NRBC (nucleated red blood cell count).  And while my white blood cell count is considered normal, it is just barely so now.

What does this mean?  It means that I am more susceptible to sickness and illness.  It means that, no matter what I do I will always be more at risk every time someone near me has a cold, infection, or contagious condition.  I am not, nor will I ever be again, “normal” when it comes to my immune system.  It means that even if you have the sniffles and kick it in a day, I will fight it for a week or more and my symptoms will be more severe.

It means you cannot expect me to just eat differently, work out more often, or take more supplements and expect that I will be able to fend off sickness the way you do.

But you do expect me to be like you.  You assume I don’t take vitamins and supplements.  You assume I am not working out.  You assume I am not eating healthy (usually).  You assume, from a position of moral certainty, that I am doing something wrong while you are doing something right.

You are, in fact, so arrogant in your belief that you are right that when I try to explain my weakened immune system – you scoff, cut me off, and look at me down your nose and accuse me of making excuses.  Of using my past cancer as a crutch.  Of not trying hard enough.  You give me tough love because all I need to do it try harder, right?  Stay consistent.

I know you all love me, my health nut friends and colleagues.  I really do appreciate all the fitness advice you give me.  I respect the hard work and dedication you put into it.  I understand that you can point to other people who have beaten deadly diseases and run marathons.  Awesome.  Good for them.

They are not you.

I spend every day, 10+ hours a day, in an unhygienic environment where we work so hard and our work intensity is so high we are already compromising our immune systems.  We have hand sanitizer in every room, but no one really uses it.  The conference tables were wiped clean with antibacterial wipes sometime last year if we’re lucky, the kitchen counters are only cleaned every few days, people work even when they are sick because we have a lot to do and we are all dedicated.  The carpets on the floors get cleaned once a year.

I go home every day to a family of high school kids who are a petri dish of whatever local illness is going though the community.

When you have 35 radiation treatments, run mustard gas through your veins, beat cancer but have a weakened immune system, work and live in a petri dish of germs, then you can come to me with unasked advice and comments on why I am so sick (never really sick, but always a little run down).

Until then, while I respect your opinion on everything else – keep this one to yourself.

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2 Responses to “Walk a Mile In My Shoes …”

  1. Still fighting a cold after 3 weeks. I can sympathize. Sorry for any germs I pass your way. My new plan is to get exposed to everything. Let god sort it out.

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