Let-me-down lymphocytes, negligent neutrophils…

It’s a glorious, warm, sunny spring Easter Monday in London.  And I’m feeling annoyed and frustrated with my body.  I know, I know….it’s brought me so far along the way to recovery from breast cancer and the awful months of treatment and really, the human body – mine included – is nothing short of a complete marvel.  But I’m still annoyed.

I’m quite competitive.  Not so much with other people; a few years ago I went to boot camp classes once or twice, but exercising in a group didn’t fire me up to get competitive – instead I found I felt bad about myself for always being the slow coach at the back.  I’m competitive with myself.  I’m my own worst critic and my own best cheerleader and coach.  Clearly those personalities clash with each other at times.  None more so than right now.  My lymphocytes are letting my down, my neutrophils are neglecting me!  And instead of a bit of self-compassion, I’m feeling pretty p’d off with myself!

You learn a new language when you have cancer.  Suddenly, you become preoccupied with haemoglobin, neutrophil and lymphocyte levels. The numbers on a blood count report have a way of determining how you feel and how you cope with what your body is going through.  During my months of chemotherapy treatment, I became fascinated with my bloods, insisting on having a copy of the report after every blood test (and you have a LOT of blood tests when going through chemo), and filing them away after poring over the stats and comparing last time’s with this time’s numbers.  I felt empowered knowing what the different things meant – low haemoglobin / red blood cells explained why I had no energy; low white blood cells (lymphocytes, neutrophils and various other ‘cytes’ and ‘phils’) meant my immune system was below par and that I needed to be careful about exposing myself to anyone infected with a cold or viral infection.  I’d congratulate myself when the numbers were slightly up on the previous time, and feel momentarily down when they weren’t.  I’d try and analyse what – apart from the obvious fact my body was taking a massive hit from a hideous, radioactive-looking set of chemo drugs on a regular basis – I’d done or could do to improve my numbers.  Eat more greens, sleep more, will myself to get stronger and feel better?  And for the most part, throughout treatment, I was on my side.  I looked after myself and surrendered myself to the bad days without feeling bad; I simply recognised that I had to listen to my poor body and give it the rest and kindness it needed.

But now, this is meant to be my up time. Treatment is over.  My hair is growing.  I look well, so everyone keeps telling me.  And, I’ve been feeling increasingly stronger.  My energy levels have been on the up and psychologically, I’ve been in such a positive space so far this year.  In the past six or eight weeks, I’ve been building up my fitness with brisk walks nearly every day, gradually increasing the distance.  And I’ve been increasing my hours at work.  Not by much, but still a small increase.

So, it’s perhaps no surprise that I came down with a nasty viral cough-cold thing about ten days ago. And have felt so rough as to have gone to bed for a couple of days last week. In the middle of this, I got back the results of a full blood count my GP took a few weeks back.  And guess what? my lymphocytes and neutrophils are still low.  Not by much, but low enough to reflect that my body is still recovering from chemotherapy and that my immune system is not back up to full whack.

So I need to give myself a break and quit the negative speak and feeling angry at my white cells for not being strong enough to fight infection right now.  But it’s easier said than done.  That inner cheerleader appears to be on Easter vacation right now…