Cue Vampire (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of Paula's story: Cue Vampire.

The immunologist was speaking. I could hear the words, but I couldn’t process them. I felt numb. Cold and numb like, well, a vampire. My skin was so sun-sensitive from the chemo that I joked to myself about being like a vampire.

We were talking about blood transfusions. This wasn’t a joke anymore.

It was all these infections. They were invading my system and getting more and more serious. From strep throat onto influenza A which seemed to morph into pneumonia. All the while fighting these strange fungal infections? Something was not right.

I was faithful to my daily oral chemo regimen. I had taken steroids, antivirals, and antifungals. I had moved onto IV antibiotics. This was something beyond leukemia. Something other than.

Immunoglobulin G deficiency

Specialized blood tests had yielded my results. The immunologist explained them to me. For those of us with autoimmune diseases, an IgG deficiency happens when our body doesn’t make enough Immunoglobulin G (IgG).  Immunoglobulin G are proteins in the blood that form the antibodies that protect us against infections. IgG is ready to multiply and attack when foreign substances get into the body. When you don't have enough, you are more likely to get infections. Serious infections. Life-threatening in fact.

I thought of all those infections. It hurt to relive them this way. Memories have teeth, too. Sharp teeth, like a vampire. The immunologist didn’t smile at my dark humor. This was not the time for vampire peer reviews.

This immunoglobulin replacement therapy was a treatment, not a cure. He explained how the healthy blood of donors would be separated into plasma that I would receive by IV. This is not something that can be made artificially. Vampires in True Blood had an artificial blood option, but this was no fictional TV show.

This plasma was precious and very hard to obtain. This therapy would be lifelong once begun. The immunologist explained that the results of these blood transfusions can be remarkable. It was time for me to take this seriously.

Any and every vaccine

I realized that (all joking aside) I would do anything to avoid coming closer to this analogy. I thought of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, “The blood is the life.” Maybe there was another way.

I asked what else I could do? My mind wandered to Interview with the Vampire. Lestat had said to Louis, “I’ll give you the choice I never had”. Did I have a choice too?

The immunologist nodded his head. Vaccines. Any and every vaccine available to someone of my age group. Five in total. Starting with diphtheria and moving all the way to the pneumonia vaccine. My immune system would be kick-started, jolted into warrior mode. Upgraded.

The immunologist gave me 5 weeks to complete all vaccinations. We could start in his office immediately with the diphtheria vaccine and make a plan from there. The follow-up bloodwork would be essential. It would tell us what we need to know.

Making vaccines my priority

Before chronic myeloid leukemia I had never really taken note of my vaccine history. I hadn’t given it much thought. Other than the yearly flu vaccine I had totally dropped the ball on this one. I was playing catch-up now. I had been given an option.

I can only speak for my situation. I’m not one to tell others what to do with their bodies. According to my family doctor infections were the simple reality of leukemia patients. I had pushed for answers and I’m glad I did. The immunologist was clear. I had been standing on a precipice of a very complicated form of immunotherapy.

I made vaccination my priority. The alternative was far from appealing. The clock was ticking.

Five weeks, five vaccines, and 12 vials of blood later, I received a phone call. There was an improvement. My IgG levels were just a hair within the normal range. I was out of the woods for now. This would be monitored regularly. I gotta say, it felt like sunshine.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer said it best, “The big moments are going to come, you can’t help that. It’s what you do afterward that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.” I had found a way through all of this. I wasn’t like a vampire hiding in the shadows anymore. I was a slayer.

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