It’s that time of the year. For many, it’s the time for sniffles, coughing, fevers, malaise, and feeling generally like a couch potato with a sinus headache.
If, however, you are also receiving chemotherapy for cancer treatment, then this can be a truly dangerous time of year, with a peril that can go well beyond the inconvenience of feeling under the weather for a few days.
What’s so dangerous about chemo?
It’s the fact that chemotherapy taxes the immune system in a significant way. A known side effect of chemotherapy treatments is a significant drop in both your red and white blood counts, which can result in a high fever and even hospitalization. If you also are around others who have a cold or the flu, you can set yourself up for getting really sick.
How can you protect yourself?
I’m going to assume that you’ve already gotten your flu shot—that’s crucial. If not, speak with your oncologist about getting one, and—if you’re already in the midst of receiving chemotherapy—when would be the best time to obtain it.
Stay away from young children who may look healthy but might in fact have a cold or the flu.
Wear a mask if you must be in close contact with toddlers or people you don’t know.
If you’re on an airplane, also consider wearing a mask to protect yourself from those coughing and sneezing around you. (You get to select your seat number and row, but not the people seated around you.) Ask the flight attendant to give you a new seat if you find yourself near someone who is obviously ill with a respiratory bug.
Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. You should wash your hands so often throughout the day that you begin to feel like an obsessive-compulsive hand washer!
Eat healthy foods rich in vitamin C. (Avoid taking vitamin C tablets, however; they can interfere with the absorption of some chemotherapy drugs. Get your C from what you eat.
If you have an unused supply of antibiotics at home and start to feel sick, do not run to the medicine cabinet and start taking them. Call your oncologist instead. He or she may or may not want you on antibiotics. Remember that antibiotics only kill bacteria, and that some illnesses—and especially the flu—are caused by viruses. You don’t want to take antibiotics when they can do no good; you might develop immunity to antibiotics. You want those wonder drugs to work when you really need them at some later date.
Get adequate rest to let your body recharge itself, without lying down all the time.
And exercise to help keep yourself healthy and fit.
I hope you have an uneventful winter that is free of illness! Be well!