As the world rages on amid a global pandemic, I have struggled with what to type in my tiny corner of the internet. Do I simply write about how I’m doing? Do I share what I’m doing to stay healthy amid this crisis? Do I attempt to go down the rabbit hole of alternative treatments (and why they are not mainstream)? *deep sigh* To be completely honest, part of me just wants to ignore it all and not post anything. I would love to stick my fingers in my ears, close my eyes, and sing “la-la-la-la” like a child, in hopes that the mass chaos around me will magically disappear. Amazingly enough, that method never worked for me as a child, so why would I assume it would work now?
I stepped away from this post for a day, asked God for guidance, and the next numerous posts I saw on social media were posts about how other people with cancer were dealing with issues that I’ve dealt with and have resources for. It was the gentle nudge I needed to prompt me to start to focus on one issue or supplement and share that information here. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that what I post on this blog is NOT medical advice. I am simply sharing things that have worked for me and I would encourage every person reading to do their own research, talk to your trusted medical professionals, if applicable, and decide what is right for you.
One issue I have faced/addressed and have seen others post about recently is Low blood counts. Blood panels look at white blood cell counts (WBC), red blood cell counts (RBC), and platelet blood counts. Low blood counts may include the following terms:
- Myelosuppression – a decrease in the production of blood cells, which may lead to low blood count.
- Pancytopenia – a lowering of all three types of blood cells; red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells, which may lead to low red blood cell count, low blood platelet count, and/or low white blood cell count.
- Anemia – a decrease in the number of red blood cells (RBC), which may lead to low red blood count.
- Thrombocytopenia – a decrease in the number of platelets (PLT), which may lead to low blood platelet count.
- Leukopenia – a decrease in the total number of white blood cells (WBC), which may lead to low white blood cell count.
- Neutropenia – a decrease in the number of neutrophils, one type of white blood cell, which may lead to low white blood cell count.
- Granulocytopenia – a decrease in the number of granulocytes, the group of white blood cells that include neutrophils, basophils and eosinophils, which may lead to low white blood cell count.
Red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. White blood cells fight infection. Platelets help blood to clot. They are found in the blood flowing through the blood vessels. Platelets also line the inside of the blood vessel. During a time when a viral infection is a very real threat, low blood counts mean that the body is far less able to fight off an infection. Quite importantly, when blood counts drop too low in cancer patients, treatment sometimes needs to be paused to allow the counts to come back up to a safer level. This pause in treatment gives the body time to recover but unfortunately also can give the cancer a chance to recover as well….an extremely undesired effect.
What is one to do when/if blood counts drop? There are certainly a variety of medications that can help with some of those counts. During my first rounds of chemotherapy 4 years ago, I had a shot of a medication called Neulasta, which stimulated bone marrow/ WBC production. My current oncologist has prescribed a similar medication called Leukine. I typically need to receive about 3 of these injections each week following chemotherapy to help keep my counts up.
In addition to that medication, my Naturopathic Oncologist prescribes me Marrow Plus, an herbal supplement that helps support bones and may support blood regeneration. It can be purchased on Amazon in a small or large bottle. I can say that I personally have seen my blood counts improve without the need for extra Leukine injections when I consistently took 2-3 tablets 3 times a day. I admit that I haven’t taken the time to research EVERY ingredient in the product but I have researched the first few and was very pleasantly surprised to discover for instance, that the first ingredient, Spatholobus, has been studied as an Estrogen inhibitor in ER+ breast cancer. I could list more studies on how it affects anemia and is an anti-inflammatory but I will let you all practice your research skills if you’d like. I personally use “duckduckgo” as my search engine rather than “google” as I find they don’t censor or bury things. I would encourage you to type “spatholobus” in the search bar and see what comes up.
I also have been slightly anemic my entire life. Not enough for any doctor to “prescribe” any treatment but enough that they make note of it. Chemotherapy, naturally drops those RBC even more so I have found that I need to take vitamins B12, B6, Vitamin K, and folate to help my body produce those cells. This medical text article does a wonderful job of explaining how “many vitamins and minerals are required for blood renewal and function. At insufficient levels in the diet these vitamins and minerals impair the health of blood and consequently the delivery of nutrients in and wastes out, amongst its many other functions.” I would encourage you to read that article and understand how you can support your blood renewal and function. Many of my chemotherapy side effects are arguably a direct result of vitamin/minerals being depleted by the chemo; therefore supplementing with those vitamins/minerals helps to reduce symptoms and hopefully the damage done by chemo.
In an ideal world, we would get all those vitamins and minerals from our food. Unfortunately, our food supply and our soil have, in many instances, been stripped of those nutrients or the nutrients are lost from the time the food is harvested to the time we consume it. So while I still strive to get as much of my nutrition from my food as possible (and I will address that below), I also use quality supplements to ensure I have adequate levels of these vital vitamins and minerals—especially while on chemotherapy.
A very important point to note is that not all supplements are created equally. Many supplements are created using synthetic versions of the vitamin/mineral that our bodies cannot break down or absorb well so you may literally be dumping your money down the toilet, so to speak. Another important aspect to be aware of is if your vitamins are methylated as some people’s bodies have a harder time processing un-methylated vitamins. Somewhat recently, my favorite vitamin company was bought out by Nestle (a corporation I refuse to support in any way) so I stopped purchasing those. I had not found a brand that I really trusted or liked until this past fall when I was re-introduced to Plexus. I now use a number of their supplements (hello good gut health) which includes their multivitamin, called Xfactor Plus. I love that this multivitamin has really good doses of the methylated B vitamins and it contains aloe, which helps with the absorption of the vitamins. ***Edited- a wise cancer friend pointed out that she generally avoids multivitamins for cancer patients, especially HER2+ and ER+ Breast cancers because the multi step usually contain a form of vitamin E that can be problematic for HER2+ As well as copper (which encourages angiogenesis- a process cancer cells use to send out new blood vessels).additionally, Boron, while some studies suggest depleted Boron levels are associated with increased risks of some cancer types, it seems it magnesium NOT Ben beneficial for estrogen positives cancers. I will be doin get more research on these and deciding whether I will stop the multivitamin and just focus on individual supplements again. – Le sigh….so complex***
Another issue with my blood counts that I’ve struggled with in the past is low platelet counts. This really seems to an issue for a lot of my chemo buddies as well. Last Friday we were discussing the oddities of constant nosebleeds, dried blood instead of boogers in our noses, and other low platelet side effects. The comraderie among us amazes me. The social reservations fall away and we find ourselves discussing former unmentionables like bathroom habits without a care for who hears us…often ending in laughter over what is out of our control and the absurdity of it all. May I just say here that laughter and the ability to laugh at our situation rather than wallow in self pity and bitterness, in my experience, is a hallmark feature of those who defy the odds. I went off track; back to platelets! It’s been my personal experience, and that of many of my buddies (at the suggestion of our ND) that taking papaya enzymes and ingesting as well as applying cold pressed organic sesame oil topically help increase platelets counts. I have experience these working during chemo. My platelets consistsntly were dropping weekly and adding those in bright the mail on an upward trend. A few of my chemo buddies still had issues with platelets despite using these two and one reported she started using liquid papaya leaf extract and it worked even better so there is that option too!
It would be foolish of me not to also point out that the foods we consume also contribute to bone marrow and blood production. We literally are what we eat so it is no surprise if we eat non-nutritious food, that our bodies will struggle to remain healthy, especially during chemotherapy. Here are a few great articles on food such you can eat to increase your iron and red blood cells:
No worries you may be sitting there saying, “Cheryse I just CANT EAT, much less eat well.” I completely understand that sometimes chemo messes with our taste buds and stomach/GI so it can be near impossible to eat well; elieve me…I’ve been there too! If that is you, I HIGHLY recommend making protein & green shakes to replace meals and get nutrients into your body. I’m quite picky about the protein powders I like. I really like Vega protein and greens in their chocolate and vanilla flavors. If you are struggling to get vitamins in you as well, I really love Plexus vegan chocolate and vanilla meal replacement powders. They have whey ones as well but I prefer to stay away from whey. These protein powders have methylated vitamins that are easy for your body to absorb. This month you can buy a bundle 5 pack which brings the price down to something like 18 cents a serving! The one other amazing thing about the plexus shakes is that for every serving sold, Plexus donatesthe equivalent of one meal to Feeding America® – the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. So not only will you nourish your body, you will nourish another human experiencing hunger! **My edit above concerning multivitamins should also be considered when considering meal replacement shake shack hat contain vitamins as well.**
If you have any questions about any of the products I have taken or specifically the plexus products (yes there are also wholesale prices not listed and I would love to tell you more about that) please drop a comment below! As per usual, some links may be affiliate links. This mean so if you click on a product link and buy said product, Amazon will pay me a teeny advertising fee. You don’t pay any more for the product, I just get a small portion of Amazons cut to gleefully spend on my supplements. I will never recomend anything I don’t personally use and love.
Please feel free to share with anyone you feel may benefit from this information. My hope and prayer is that I can share what I’ve learned on this journey and help others!